Scoring with Free Elections and Civil Rights

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, an autocracy hosts the World Cup. Reason enough for us to uphold values such as inclusion, participation and fair play not only on the pitch but also in society as a whole. Because football and democracy have much more in common than it seems at first glance.

Some football fans are asking themselves how to deal with the negative political implications of the World Cup 2018. Doesn’t the football tournament in Russia help legitimize an autocracy? Is it morally justifiable to view matches like Saudi Arabia—Egypt from a purely football perspective while ignoring the human rights situation in those nations? Officials hope that by the kick-off of the opening match, football will outshine every discussion about corruption, despotism and human rights violations. In media that have spent huge sums of money on the rights to broadcast the FIFA World Cup®, criticism of political grievances will take a back seat. “When the ball rolls, the world will focus on football. Politics does not have to worry us then,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at a recent press conference.

Against political apathy

Interestingly, sports associations insist on separating sports and politics whenever they do not want to take responsibility for the political and social consequences of their actions. Football has a considerable socio-political relevance – both positive and negative. Successes at major tournaments helped young democracies such as the Federal Republic of Germany in 1954 to regain their self-confidence. The joint hosting of the 2002 World Cup has improved the historically strained relations between Japan and South Korea. Conversely, unsustainable concepts and ruthless commercialization can also cause considerable problems in host countries. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil tended to damage social cohesion and confidence in the political leadership as a whole. After all, they were still sufficiently democratic states with freely elected governments. FIFA is now radically breaking with this tradition, which has continued for over 30 years. With Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, two autocracies in a row were selected to host the World Cup. President Putin had Russian troops invade neighboring Ukraine in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018 with 77% of the vote, after one promising competitor, Boris Nemtsov, had been murdered, and the other, Alexei Navalny, had been eliminated by the judiciary. FIFA is unimpressed by this and opts for a political-free zone, Big Mac and circuses.

We would like to make our readers an enlightened and entertaining counter-offer to the prescribed political apathy, without wanting to take away the joy of football. We test the teams for democracy quality, the normative reference point of our country rankings and analyses, in order to predict the outcome of the World Cup matches. Also from a sports perspective, there are also good reasons not to disregard our game forecasts. Democracies simply play better football. Matches are not being won by single players, but only as a team. It’s the same in politics. The correlation between democracy and good football has long been empirically proven. Countries with a higher quality of democracy have significantly better national teams. Among the eight World Cup winners since 1930, there is not a single country that has an autocratic form of government today. It is also no coincidence that the first world champion Uruguay is the frontrunner in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index today.

This is how the Democracy World Cup works: We have subjected all 32 participating countries to a rigorous democracy test. Based on the Bertelsmann Stiftung indices – the Transformation Index (BTI) and the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) – we evaluate nations in five central areas of democracy. Free and fair elections are the democratic playmaking. A good fan culture is characterized by freedom of speech. Civil rights are effectively protected by a strong democratic defense. Social inclusion is central to the team spirit of any society. And fighting corruption is the equivalent of fair play on the pitch. Playing cards provide information about the strengths and weaknesses of each country in these five areas.

Democracy wins

In order to compare the 32 countries, we have transformed the independent sub-rankings of the two democracy indices BTI and SGI into a common five-level points system, from very poor (1) to very good (5). All evaluations in the five areas of free elections, freedom of expression, civil rights, social inclusion and anti-corruption are backed up by detailed expert assessments. We have compiled the essential takeaways on each participating country in one-page profiles – short enough to be read during the warm-up or the half-time break.

Every match day starts with a prediction of the day. The predictions results from a direct comparison of the two opponents along the five areas of democracy. The number of goals scored by a national team corresponds with the number of democracy areas in which it outperforms the opponent. If both teams are on an equal footing in a democracy area, no goal will be allocated. Although there are considerable differences in the quality of democracy between countries, there is no country that gets the full score in all areas and none that scores lowest everywhere.

We invite you to accompany our Democracy World Cup on our World Cup website. The prediction of the day and up-to-date information on democracy issues in the participating countries are available on Twitter via the hashtag #DemocracyWorldCup and on our Facebook page.

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