Red for danger. Report finds a nation’s homicide rates statistically correlate to card-happy refs

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September 11 – Referees in South America are more card-happy than anywhere else in the world, handing out on average 5.83 cards per match. In Asia the refs average 4 cards a match, according to a survey of 87 divisions worldwide.

The CIES Football Observatory report looks at the number of yellow and red cards given by referees between 2015 and 2020. The study finds significant difference in the numbers of cards handed out in countries and a “significant correlations between the amount of cards per match and many socio-economic indicators for nations.”

The report authors find that: “The gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI) are inversely correlated to the quantity of cards. This indicates that the matches played in nations whose inhabitants enjoy a higher standard of living and education are less fraught, or at least are less sanctioned by the referee corps.”

Football is often described as a reflection of life. The report finds that there is a statistical correlation between the number of cards in a league and the homicide rate in the country

“The violence present in a society thus seems to be transposed to football. In addition, the more citizens consider that the level of corruption in their country is high, the more referees are likely to hand out cards. This result could reflect the existence of a social climate where distrust and suspicion are rife,” say the report authors.

They conclude: “These findings show that football matches take place under different dynamics according to the social, economic, political and cultural context of the country in which they are played. They confirm the very strong link between football and society and reveal the importance of taking into account the specifics of countries for a fine analysis of the game even in a context of globalisation.”

See the full CIES report at

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