NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 9, 2006

The soccer World Cup is here and ESPN is airing a series of ads with members of the rock band U2. In one, Bono says that the World Cup "closes the schools, closes the shops, closes a city and stops a war."

Does the World Cup really put a stop to war? It is undeniable that soccer has the power to unite, but its power to divide should not be underestimated, says Daniel W. Drezner, who will be an associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in the fall.

  • The best-known example took place in June 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. Disputes between the two countries had reached a boiling point at the same time that a three-game elimination match between the two national teams was taking place. Rioting during the second game led the two countries to break diplomatic relations. Two weeks later, the 100-hour Soccer War took place, resulting in about 2,000 casualties.
  • Soccer also played a role in the run-up to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The leader of Red Star Belgrade's ultranationalist fans -- the Delije --- was the notorious Arkan. He later recruited from the Delije to form the paramilitary force that engaged in ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims during the wars, and ultimately was the victim of a gangland-style killing.

While success at the World Cup can bolster national pride, losing can reap the whirlwind, says Drezner. For example, a working paper by business professors Alex Edmans, Diego Garcia and Oyvind Norli finds that "losses in soccer matches have an economically and statistically significant negative effect on the losing country's stock market."

Source: Daniel W. Drezner, "Soccer's World Cup helps keep peace -- or does it? The sport's biggest event incites bellicose emotion, too," Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2006; and Alex Edmans, Diego Garcia and Oyvind Norli, "Sports sentiment and stock returns," Social Science Research Network, November 21, 2005.

For SSRN abstract:


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