THE BLOG
06/15/2010 11:06 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

7 Myths of World Cup Soccer, and the Science Behind Them

We assume that when an amazing event like "World Cup Soccer" comes around, that what you see and hear is what you get. After all, things look pretty simple: stadiums are built, people go to the game, they come back happy or sad and the best team wins. But is this really the case? And if not, why not? Here are seven myths that you might never have predicted about World Cup Soccer together with the research that backs them up:

  1. The "Cheering" Myth: Who doesn't like to join in the passion and noise when one is joined by an army of spectators backing the same team? It turns out that the group cheering may not be as inconsequential as you think. A recent study in the South African Medical Journal reported that spectator noise exceeded limits of permissible average and peak sound levels. There is also significant worsening in the ability to hear after a match and inner ear responsiveness highlights the possible risk for noise-induced hearing loss [1]. So if you are thinking of going to a soccer game, you might want to plug your ears beforehand, especially if you are a fan and plan on going multiple times.
  2. The "Good Looks" Myth: There is now a tremendous body of research that suggests that attractive people tend to be more successful. You might imagine then, that this would also be true of soccer players as well. Right? Wrong! In fact, the exact opposite is true in all cases except for one exception -- at least in the German premier league . A recent study showed that the more attractive the player, the worse the performance, unless most of the team members are attractive, in which case, greater attractiveness leads to better performance. That suggests that if most of the soccer players on a team are attractive, being attractive is a plus, but if not, being attractive can be a hindrance [2]. It is interesting that the collective power of good looks has the opposite effect of individual good looks.
  3. The "Safety" Myth: Directly after the World Cup opening ceremonies in South Africa, there were breaking news reports that Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter was killed in a car accident. This fueled the already cautious world spectators concerns over safety at the World Cup. A survey of 171 foreign visitors to South Africa done in 2007 showed that tourists were in fact very concerned about safety prior to arrival [3]. However, at the ends of their visits, their perceptions changed for the better and visitors were keen to recommend the country to other people. The authors of this article believe that the highly ambiguous and politicized crime reporting leads to this difference between anticipation and reality.
  4. The "Sportswear" Myth: If you think it doesn't matter what you wear, think again. A recent study examined whether red shirt color is associated with long-term success in English soccer [4]. The study found the following: across all league divisions, red teams had the best home record, with significant differences in both percentage of maximum points achieved and mean position in the home league table; there is a proven significantly better performance of red teams over a 55-year period. The study concluded that wearing red enhances performance in a variety of competitive contexts. So the next time you're wondering what to wear, you might want to put away that white shirt and put on a red one instead.
  5. The "Injury" Myth: Do soccer players suffer the same number of injuries as cross country skiers, swimmers and long-distance runners? A study published this month reported that soccer had significantly more injuries (5.1 injuries/1000 exposure hour) than other sports [5]. However, more runners than soccer players reported overuse injuries typically in the foot. In soccer and running the absence time from sport because of injuries was significantly longer than in skiing and swimming. Overall, it seems to matter what body region you are using, so when playing a "whole body" sport like soccer, be mindful of whole body conditioning.
  6. The "Goalkeeper Shorts" Myth: Goalkeepers frequently jump to the side, and their shorts are therefore padded to avoid hip injury. But is this padding enough? No difference of the injury risk was found between goalkeepers wearing padded shorts and those who did not [6]. Although the padded shorts generally reduce impact forces, most perform poorly. The next time you see a goalkeeper jump to the side, I'm sure you'll be thinking about those padded shorts! Apparently shorts made of visco-elastic foam are the ones to get.
  7. The "Excitement" Myth: It is undoubtedly a downer, but a fact worth noting; The World Cup soccer 2006 has been shown to provoke levels of stress sufficient to increase the incidence of Acute Coronary Syndrome due to a profound increase in inflammatory substances and substances that constrict blood vessels [7]. So if you're watching the game with someone who seems to be getting stressed about the results, you may want to ask them to calm down before there hearts start complaining too.

References

1. Swanepoel, D. and J.W. Hall, Football match spectator sound exposure and effect on hearing: A pretest-post-test study. Samj South African Medical Journal, 2010. 100(4): p. 239-242.
2. Rosar, U., J. Hagenah, and M. Klein, Physical Attractiveness and Individual Performance - or: Why and When Unattractive Men Are the Better Football Players. Soziale Welt-Zeitschrift Fur Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung Und Praxis, 2010. 61(1): p. 51-+.
3. Donaldson, R. and S. Ferreira, Crime, perceptions and touristic decisionmaking: Some empirical evidence and prospects for the 2010 World Cup. Politikon, 2007. 34(3): p. 353-371.
4. Attrill, M.J., et al., Red shirt colour is associated with long-term team success in English football. Journal of Sports Sciences, 2008. 26(6): p. 577-582.
5. Ristolainen, L., et al., Type of sport is related to injury profile: A study on cross country skiers, swimmers, long-distance runners and soccer players. A retrospective 12-month study. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2010. 20(3): p. 384-393.
6. Schmitt, K.U., et al., Analysing the protective potential of padded soccer goalkeeper shorts. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010. 44(6): p. 426-429.
7. Wilbert-Lampen, U., et al., Modified Serum Profiles of Inflammatory and Vasoconstrictive Factors in Patients With Emotional Stress-Induced Acute Coronary Syndrome During World Cup Soccer 2006. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2010. 55(7): p. 637-642.