Is Europe Overrepresented at World Cup? Nope

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/08/2013 09:47:00 AM
It's the weekend and it's time we had another feature dealing with international sport. Perhaps inevitably, let's talk about football. Some are lamenting that the ranks of World Cup participants for next year's event is in Brazil are filled with European teams. Why does Europe get represented by 13 teams--over 40% of the participants? Don't Europeans represent only slightly over 10% of the world population? Certainly this is an unfair remnant of a bygone, Eurocentric world?  With the group draws done and dusted, it's time to have a closer look at the matter.

The easiest way to go about our task is to look at the number of European teams in FIFA's rankings of national teams. Since there are 32 participants in the World Cup, how many of them are European? By this metric, things look rather fairer. Here are the Europeans in the world's top 32 as of November 28, 2013:

01. Spain
02. Germany
05. Portugal
07. Italy
08. Switzerland
09. Netherlands
11. Belgium
12. Greece
13. England
16. Croatia
18. Ukraine [did not qualify for World Cup 2014 - Brazil]
19. France
21. Bosnia-Herzegovina
22. Russia
25. Denmark [DNQ]
27. Sweden [DNQ]
28. Czech Republic [DNQ]
29. Slovenia [DNQ]
30. Serbia [DNQ]
32. Romania [DNQ]

Also consider two European teams that fall just outside the top 32:

33. Scotland [DNQ]
34. Armenia [DNQ]

So actually, Europe is (gasp!) underrepresented at the World Cup. If we dealt away with regional qualifiers which make it harder for Europeans to reach Brazil due to tougher competition--ie., each other--and instead select teams by virtue of their world rankings, then 20 out of 32 (62.5%) participants should be European instead of 13. Sorry, but the rankings imply that 7 teams from other regions of the world got in on football's equivalent of "affirmative action." We speak of a "group of death" featuring top-ranked national sides during the World Cup group stage that is hard to progress from into the knockout stages, but Europeans are invariably drawn into a "region of death" just to qualify for the event. Does anyone really doubt that European non-qualifiers alike the Czech Republic, Denmark or Sweden would beat the stuffing out of Costa Rica, Honduras or Iran?

Is it a throwback to a bygone era of Western political-economic dominance, then? No, Europe still rules over this sport if we go by international team rankings. Also keep geopolitics in mind: with the demise of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the number of world-class European national sides has significantly increased. Among the top 32, the former begat Russia and Ukraine while the latter begat Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Serbia. Why Europe still dominates is an interesting question which I suspect deals with the most lucrative and competitive of professional leagues being in Europe. If you want to sharpen your talents against world-class competition, then European professional leagues remain the place to be.