The Political Economy of Football : Democracy, Income Inequality, and Men’s National Football Performance

Kin-Man WAN*, Ka-U NG, Thung-Hong LIN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The reasons why some countries outperform others in international football games warrant exploration. In this article, we argue that the synergy of economic development, democratic experience, football association duration, and low income inequality improves the performance of men’s national football teams. Contemporary professional football is a typical “club good” that encourages members to act collectively by watching games, organizing associations, and investing in talent and capital for team success. We hypothesize that economic development sustains professional football, particularly in democratic regimes that allow collective action through football associations. Wealthy democracies most effectively shape institutional incentives that improve the transparency, fairness, and competitiveness of leagues and contribute to their prosperity, benefiting the talent pool for national football teams. In addition, income inequality excludes the talents from the poor and reduces national football performance. We used panel data from 119 countries for the period from 1999 to 2014 as well as fixed-effects models to verify our hypotheses. The result confirms that democracy improves national football performance. During this period, for instance, Panama, a young democracy, got 13.2% increase in estimated ln FIFA scores. By contrast, Thailand, becoming autocracy in 2007, experienced 12.6% decrease in estimated ln FIFA scores. Democracy stock also moderated the effects of a long football association history to improve national football performance. In addition, reduced income inequality increased performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)981-1013
Number of pages33
JournalSocial Indicators Research
Issue number3
Early online date19 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work has received financial support from the Taiwanese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST 108-2410-H-001-090-MY3). Earlier versions of this article have been presented at the ISSA 2017 World Congress of Sociology of Sport and the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology. For valuable comments, we thank Chih-jou Chen, Lawrence Ka-Ki Ho, Junyan Jiang, Sakeef Karim, Thomas Soehl, and three anonymous reviewers. We are grateful to Ya-Hsuan Chou for the research assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Democracy
  • Development
  • Football (soccer)
  • Football association
  • Income inequality


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