Policy in the Pub

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Last night, I went to an Economics Society of Australia (Victorian Branch) event that is a wonderful new (henceforth monthly) initiative, called Policy in the Pub. The inaugural speaker at this event at the Elephant and Wheelbarrow in the City was the Grattan Institute’s Jim Minifie, who gave a superb presentation on the interim Murray Report on the Australian financial system. Fortunately, it was well attended by about 35-40 people, including some significant local luminaries in the economist community.

These sorts of initiatives should be lauded as a good attempt to continue to keep our profession relevant and to engage with members of the broader community who may be tempted to engage with us. I’ll be going again in the near future, and I’d strongly encourage current ESA members to consider going to the next one.

More on Penalty Shoot-out Alternative

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Following on from my post on 2 July, I had another newspaper piece in the Australian Financial Review (today, Tuesday 15 July), called: “GOAL! A Better Alternative to Penalty Shootouts“. The link is gated as usual (see p.43 of the hard copy if you have it, or e-mail me a request). It further delineates the economic case for shifting the penalty shoot-out to before extra-time.

Superb World Cup ‘Selection Bias’ Example

Soccer - World Cup Switzerland 54 - Final - Hungary v West Germany
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[Cross-posted at: The Sports Economist, 4 July 2014]

For all those economics professors and tutors out there who struggle to explain the crucial concept of ‘selection bias’, a nice illustration can be found in FIFA World Cup finals records. With students (at least those who do not loathe sport) currently in soccer-crazy mode, they may be more motivated to understand this concept through the following trivia question:

Q: In World Cup (finals) history, which team has the highest goal-scoring ratio (goals scored divided by games played)?

Scroll below for the answer, which may be surprising to many, except the amateur World Cup historians among you.

Most people would instinctively say Brazil; however, they appear second on this list at 2.16 per game (218 from 101 games, inclusive of the second-round of the 2014 edition). Germany follows at a very-close third with 2.15 (221 from 103).

The record-holders are…wait for it…Hungary! Yes, those ‘Mighty Magyars’ top the list and (get this) by a comfortable margin, too – indeed a chasm – their 87 goals in 32 games comes in at an astonishing 2.72 goals per game.

If you don’t believe me (and you’re more than entitled not to), check the figures here. Hungary has never won the World Cup, but have twice reached the final: in 1938, when they lost to Italy; and again in 1954, with legends Puskás and Kocsis (et al.) in their ‘Golden Team’, which came into that World Cup undefeated in more than 4 years, only to squander a two-goal lead (which they had after only 8′) to (the then-West) Germany, who incidentally they had annihilated in the first round by the incredible scoreline of 8-3.

OK, so what is the selection bias here? Well, look at the chart below, which displays average goals per game by World Cup. The flags I added at the top of the bars denote the World Cup finals that Hungary both entered and qualified for.

goals by world cup

From this, it is easy to see that scoring outcomes were lower from 1962 compared to earlier, with a further decline (albeit slight) since then. Hungary is but one of a number of national football teams that were among the best handful in the World for considerable periods at any time since the inaugural World Cup in 1930 (according to retrospective Elo ratings, they were ranked number one as late as 1965). However, of all national teams in this category, Hungary is the one that played the highest proportion of its matches in higher-scoring World Cups.

For all you Magyars out there lamenting your boys’ extended absence from the big stage (28 years now and counting), rest assured that (since it’s unlikely that Brazil and Germany will ever get anywhere near 2.72) the only way to guarantee holding this highly-prestigious record in perpetuity is to continue to NOT qualify for the finals – proof that there is indeed success in failure!

UPDATE: OK, Germany (2.181) now overtake Brazil (2.146) for second-place after that unbelievable semi-final; but Hungary’s place at the summit still looking just as safe in the bank vault as before!

Solution to World Cup Penalty Shoot-out Problem: ABC Interview with Waleed Aly

Greece's Theofanis Gekas reacts after missing during a penalty shootout in their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game against Costa Rica at the Pernambuco arena
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I returned to ABC Radio National’s Drive program with Waleed Aly, yesterday evening (Tuesday 1 July, go to link for audio).

The 2014 World Cup now in its knock-out phase (which brings with it the inevitable problem of extra-time and penalty shoot-outs, as well as perverse incentive effects to both teams to over-defend). Shining a light on this, Waleed and I discussed a simple rule-change proposal, based on economic principles, which we believe would produce better scoring outcomes in extra-time and diminish reliance on the game’s cruel version of Russian roulette to decide the winner (among numerous other improvements).

If you’re interested in the economics behind the proposal, you can see the abstract of the article from Journal of Sports Economics (December 2013 issue), on which it’s based, here.

James Reade on Tennis Home-Advantage

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My co-author, James Reade (University of Reading) published an excellent piece today in The Conversation (UK edition) on our joint work using pro-tennis data, focusing on home-court advantage in the sport. This is of topical interest in Britain right now owing to Andy Murray’s defense of his Wimbledon title currently being in full swing.

Read: Hard Evidence: Does Home Support Help or Hinder Murray’s Wimbledon Chances?

We are interested primarily in other aspects of the data; nonetheless, home advantage is a nice little scientific problem that the average fan can sink their teeth into – nice one, Jimmy!

Why Oz Soccer Fans Should Cheer for the Chinese Economy

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My latest Australian Financial Review piece: “Sleepless in Skipton: Long Slog for Local Soccer Fans” appeared in today’s edition (Friday 27 June). The link is gated; though it’s on p.43 of the hard copy if you can get your hands on one.

If you’re an Australian World Cup tragic who has been horrendously sleep-deprived over the previous fortnight, you get a lot of sympathy from me in it.