Spain wins UEFA Euro 2012. Does good soccer mean a bad economy?

As the UEFA Euro 2012 draws to a close, we wonder: Is there a negative correlation between a country's economic health and its success in soccer? Spain and Italy met in the UEFA Euro 2012 final last night, just as both nations are dealing with monetary struggles. 

Mattthias Schrader/AP/File
General action during the Euro 2012 soccer championship final between Spain and Italy in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, July 1, 2012. According to Karlsson, the tournament has hinted at a negative correlation between economic and soccer success.

One observation that one can make regarding the current European cup in football (by "football" I mean of course the version where they actually mostly use their foots to move the ball just like name implies, not the American version where they mostly use their hands to move the ball) is that there appears to be a negative correlation between  how good countries perform on the football field and how well their economies.

Out of the more than 50 nations of Europe, plus countries that geographically are mostly or entirely in Asia including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Israel and non-independent parts of Britain like England and Scotland only 16 were allowed to enter. Yet all five of the so-called PIIGS countries managed to qualify themselves, while most relatively strong economies including Norway, Finland, Austria, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Turkey and Israel didn't make it, or as in the case of Poland was only present because it together with Ukraine hosted the event.

 And in the group play, only one of the PIIGS, Ireland, failed to be among the eight that made it to the quarter finals.

And of the remaining quarter finalists, England and Czechia represented countries that have slipped into double dip recessions. Only Germany represented a fairly strong economy with France economy coming in between the weak countries and Germany.

In the quarter finals, all remaining PIIGS except for Greece won and made it to the quarter finals. Then in the semi finals, the intra-Iberian penninsula match between Spain and Portugal ended with Spanish victory while Italy defeated Germany. Regardless of whether Spain or Italy had won last night,  it it would have been  the team from a country with a weak economy.

So while far from perfect (had it been perfect, Germany wouldn't have defeated Greece in the quarter finals), there appears to be a negative empirical correlation between success in football and economic success. 

Is this correlation causal? Almost certainly not. Spain, Portugal and Italy's economic problems can hardly to any significant extent be attributed to excess spending on football, especially since it also generates a lot of revenue for them as well  Instead this is an example of how correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation.

What one can say however is that particularly in the country that won the final, success on the football field at least provides comfort for that country when they try to fix their economic problems.

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