Soccer Success and Web Success: Are They Related?

The World Wide Web Foundation is an organization dedicated to, in their words, “seek[ing] to establish the open Web as a global public good and a basic right, ensuring that everyone can access and use it freely”.  One of the projects of the World Wide Web Foundation is the “Web Index“, a measure of how well countries have developed the Internet and used it for  human empowerment.

The Web Index comes from a survey of 86 questions.  These questions are then condensed into a single score. I like to think of it as a measure of the health of a country’s digital environment.  I’m currently  playing with the data from the 2012 survey.

Over the past few weeks I found myself caught up in the World Cup, and the American soccer team.  I watched almost every minute of the match between US and Belgium, rooting for the team generally and admiring the play of Tim Howard specifically.

I thought to myself:  “What if I compare Web Index ranks for the 61 countries measured in 2012, with the rankings calculated by FIFA?”

Putting the Web Index rankings and FIFA rankings into a scatterplot produces:

Table of Web Index by FIFA Score

It’s a nice visual.  As Web Index goes up so does a country’s FIFA ranking.  Spain is the highest ranked country by FIFA, with a score of 1485.  They also score relatively high on the web index with a score of 42.  The US is not bad, with a FIFA score of 13th, and their web index ranking is around 58.

For those statistically inclined, there is a correlation between these two measures of about 0.44 – which is considered moderate.

A Soccer Culture

The reason why there is a clear  relationship in the scatterplot above is because the same resources needed to develop a healthy digital environment are the same resources needed to develop a strong national soccer team. Money and manpower are necessary but not sufficient In my opinion, of the many things listed below, it is the last in priority: 

  • A population that will hold its leaders accountable.  As we held our politicians accountable for how well they could provide Internet access to our children in schools, we will need to hold soccer coaches and players accountable for winning and losing.  There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth after the US basketball team finished in third place after the 1988 Olympics.  We as a nation felt compelled to build a “Dream Team“, siccing Jordan, Bird, Magic, Barkley and three or four more Hall of Famers on the world.  We’ll need that level of concern for failure in soccer.
  • A population that is knowledgeable enough about the goal so that what is delivered is the real deal.  The same way we have organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation keeping politicians in check, we need sportscasters and writers to keep us informed on the progress of the soccer team.  I already know that  in a few weeks the sports world will turn their attention to baseball and college football.  But the American population needs to be informed of the progress of the team, even when there isn’t a World Cup on the horizon.
  • Normative expectations of soccer success.  Just as the expectation of privacy and freedom of speech make it hard for entities in the US to lock down the digital environment, expectations of soccer competence will make it hard for the US to not produce skilled soccer players.  This means having kids play soccer in the street, having young men being the BMOC as soccer players, and making soccer players household names.
  • Finally, money and manpower.  We needed investment in infrastructure to build the web and we needed knowledgable computer technicians and engineers to do it.  We will need the same investment here in the US in soccer stadiums and in soccer coaches.  But this, in my opinion is a byproduct of a soccer culture.

The US has a strong cyberculture, one of the strongest in the world.  This makes us a top five country in the Web Index rankings.  When the US builds a strong soccer culture we will find ourselves in the top five of the FIFA rankings as well.


One comment

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