Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Out of Sample Predictions About World Cup Rioting

So Brazil gets humiliatingly crushed in the World Cup by Germany, 7-1. While there is much to be said about this, mostly in the way of cruel mockery, it has already been done by folks much more learned on the subject than me. As a side note, while watching my streaming of dubious legal status, I did reflect on how the ideal commentators for a complete drubbing are the BBC ones, since they just ooze dry and scathing humour. It's full of great adjectives like 'shambolic' and 'appalling', and they managed to get in some classic digs (quoted from memory):
'This has been the worst 45 minutes of football in Brazilian history'.
'Without Neymar, could this be the worst team to make a World Cup Semi-Final?'
and my favourite of all:
'And Oscar scores the most pointless of World Cup goals...'
So since it would be mean to pile on more, let me focus instead on something where I can add more value. Given that Brazil has been crushed and humiliated, will this defeat lead to rioting? Plenty of people seem to think it will - this CBC story in the Google cache version has the sentence 'Brazil riots feared as home team routed by Germany', but this has now been scrubbed. For a prediction, let's turn to my favorite author on violence, Randall Collins (I've written about him here and here). In his excellent book, 'Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory' (pdf of the first chapter available here), he makes the following observations (p312):
'During the 2002 World Cup, Russian soccer fans, who were watching the game with Japan on a big screen in a central Moscow square, rioted after Japan scored the one goal of the game...
The 2002 Moscow riot is both a political riot and a defeat riot, the counterpart to a victory celebration riot. As we will see, celebration riots can be just as destructive as defeat riots; and celebration riots are much more common. Losing a game is generally emotionally deflating, and the crowd lacks the ebullience and the traditional rituals (such as tearing down goal posts), which can segue from a victory celebration into a destructive riot. Defeat riots require an additional mechanism. One clue is that defeat riots seem to be more common in international competition than domestically, and where sports rivalries are highly politicized. Defeat riots depend more on features extraneous to the game, since the emotional flow of the game itself will generally de-energize the defeated and energize the victors. 
So while this is an international competition, I'd say that the thrust of the Collins prediction is that, contra the predictions of many, there won't be rioting.

And the verdict?
Brazil Riots in World Cup? Nope; Bogus Photos Spread After Germany Beats Brazil 7-1 in Soccer Semi-Finals; Fake Demonstration-Protest Tweets in Belo Horizonte Trending
1-0 in Russia might have been enough to get people angry, but 7-1 just produces dejection. People don't burn buildings while dejected.

It's still too early to tell, and I'll continue to see if I (and more importantly, Mr Collins) are wrong, but my guess is that there won't be any rioting.

Seriously, if you didn't last time I talked about it a few years ago, go and read the first chapter of Collins here. I am no apologist for the general predictive power of sociology, but the man knows his stuff.

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