Reading about the dominant women’s soccer team in In a League of Their Own!: The Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team made me consider what makes certain countries strong in women’s soccer. At the time, it seemed that England had a huge advantage over the US in women’s soccer and probably over everyone in the world. However, now the US Women’s Soccer team is now considered the preeminent power in the world. I am certain that there are innumerable factors that went into why the US is dominant and why other nations that one might expect to be dominant are not. There are certainly thousands of decisions and pivotal moments of which I am completely ignorant. However, I attempted to identify three main quantifiable factors that I would think could influence the development and power of women’s soccer in a country. I came up with the level of rights granted to women in the country, the size of the country and the skill and power of men’s soccer in the country. I then chose a metric to simplify each of these factors.
First, to quantify how strong a women’s national team is, I used their FIFA ranking. Due to time constraints, I chose to only look at the top 50. To attempt to quantify the degree to which women are empowered in each country, I found a US News and World Report list that ranked the top 80 countries for women to live. I understand that this is highly subjective and at best a crude way to quantify this complex concept, but I think that it at least gives an indication as to where women are more empowered. To quantify the size of the country, I used the rank of the country in terms of population. Again, this is a crude approximation as the 40th country is not necessarily twice as big as the 80th country, but it at least gives an indication about the relative size of the countries and how it might correlate with women’s soccer skill. Lastly, to quantify how powerful the men’s soccer team is I used the FIFA men’s rankings. While the rankings are transient and do not necessarily convey how much of a “soccer country” a country is, they at least give an indication of which countries have a richer history in soccer (France and Brazil are near the top; Canada and Australia are not).
I then plotted each of these rankings against the FIFA women’s rankings to see how well they correlated.
As is shown, the ranking for empowerment of women correlates most strongly with the strength of the women’s national soccer team. I calculated r2 values to help quantify how closely each of these factors correlated with the strength of the women’s national team. Empowerment of women in the country posted the strongest r2 at .439. Rank of the men’s team was next at .069, followed by country population at .057. This should not come as a shock, as some of the more progressive countries also boast strong women’s soccer teams, even if they don’t have strong men’s programs: USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Norway and South Korea to name a few.
I recognize that there are many limitations to my analysis. The metrics are not foolproof indicators for what I was attempting to measure. Also, I only looked at the top 50 teams rather than all women’s national teams. And my statistical analysis skills are not particularly robust so it is probable that there are some errors or false assumptions. Additionally, I had to throw out nine of the countries because I could not find data for them in at least one of the categories, and decided that rather than risk them skewing one of the metrics, I would throw them out altogether.
However, despite the potential shortcomings of the findings, I still think it is interesting to think about and attempt to prove which factors contribute to success in soccer. Interestingly, if you combined all three factors together evenly, it would create a stronger correlation than any individually at .505. I am sure that using some simple computer science, someone could find the optimal combination of all three factors. I would love to hear people’s comments about this, particularly if anyone disagrees with what I did or how I did it!