Civil war exposure and violence

That's a new paper by Edward Miguel, Sebastian Saiegh, and Shanker Satyanath and here is the abstract:

In recent years scholars have begun to focus on the consequences of individuals’ exposure to civil war, including its severe health and psychological consequences. Our innovation is to move beyond the survey methodology that is widespread in this literature to analyze the actual behavior of individuals with varying degrees of exposure to civil war in a common institutional setting. We exploit the presence of thousands of international soccer (football) players with different exposures to civil conflict in the European professional leagues, and find a strong relationship between the extent of civil conflict in a player’s home country and his propensity to behave violently on the soccer field, as measured by yellow and red cards. This link is robust to region fixed effects, country characteristics (e.g., rule of law, per capita income), player characteristics (e.g., age, field position, quality), outliers, and team fixed effects. Reinforcing our claim that we isolate the effect of civil war exposure rather than simple rule-breaking or something else entirely, there is no meaningful correlation between our measure of exposure to civil war and soccer performance measures not closely related to violent conduct. The result is also robust to controlling for civil wars before a player’s birth, suggesting that it is not driven by factors from the distant historical past.

One question is whether such behavior occurs because the player's psyche has somehow been brutalized or whether it is a deliberate affect aimed at a violence-expecting audience back home.  It's related to which variables might best predict the propensity of an NBA player to pick up technical fouls; would that be correlated with urban upbringing, the nature of the audience (home vs. away, TV vs. live crowd, etc.) or perhaps correlated with early brushes with the law?

If you wish to skim the results, start with p.25.  The Colombian players pick up a lot of yellow cards.


One question is whether such behavior occurs because the player's psyche has somehow been brutalized or whether it is a deliberate affect aimed at a violence-expecting audience back home.

And another question might be whether some cultures / societies are more prone to violence than others.

And maybe those those cultures / societies are more likely to have civil wars and more carded footballers.

And I suspect the authors didn't mean
international soccer (football) players with different exposures to civil conflict in the European professional leagues

but rather

international soccer (football) players in the European professional leagues with different exposures to civil conflict at home

And it still leaves the broader, and more interesting question, are some sociites / cutures more prone to violence than others? If so, what accounts for that difference?

I understand that S. Saiegh, one of the authors, is Argentinian like myself but much younger. I've been attending or watching soccer games with Argentinian teams since the late 1940s. In the past 60 years there has been a lot of civil unrest and violence in my country, but the level of unrest and violence has fluctuated sharply over periods of a few years. Has this affected the behavior of soccer players in Argentina and abroad (remember that Argentina has been exporting a lot of players)? Frankly I don't think so. There have been so many other changes that it's quite difficult to identify the contribution of any particular factor. Perhaps the most important change was the introduction of the yellow card (in the 1970s?) for cautioning players. The change from a system based only on the red card to a system of two cards (cautionable and sending-off offences) was a huge one because it granted referees too much power. And today the most important difference across countries is the way in which referees exercise this power. Some players have a hard time adjusting to a new country because of this.
You make a comment about Colombian players. Several of them have been playing in other Latin American countries and their behavior does not appear to differ significantly from local players.
Finally, there is a selection bias because players that move to Europe are usually the best and they have to play against local players of low quality that use (and are allowed to use) too much violence (look at what happened to Maradona in Spain and Italy and what happened to Pele in the 1966 World Cup).

So reading the start of this story, I completely missed the actual story. I somehow mis-interpreted this story as a USA nanny state thing, in the vein of "video games cause school shootings", and throught that they were going to change the curriculum of the history classes in order to avoid trauma.

What's "robust to region fixed effects" in English, please?

or perhaps this measures how much a person can get away with. Poor behaviour from, say, a brit will not be excused away whereas poor behaviour from cote d'ivoirian, 90's era Jugo etc could be downplayed as "poor wee me!"
An interesting suffix to this study could be coaches/managers reaction to red/yellow cards as correlates to home country

All I know is that whenever I play basketball with a soccer player they are very aggressive. In fact, it's not just more, it is different because I can play to their aggression level although it is not how basketball is played and being conditioned to play soccer they didn't seem to understand the distinction and were usually quite surprised when I mimicked their style which resulted in escalation.

although it is not how basketball is played

I don't follow basketball, so what are all those penalty shots about? Bad words?

This was presumably off court:

In early December 1997, professional basketball player Latrell Sprewell of the Golden State Warriors physically assaulted and threatened to kill his coach, P.J. Carlesimo.

"Aggression in Sports: The Case of Latrell Sprewell"

OK, maybe:

Basketball Drills To Improve Aggression

Many coaches struggle with basketball drills to improve aggression. Here is one suggestion that has worked for me in the past.

Here is a drill for players who are not physical enough (a problem I have been having with my team of freshmen). It is very simple.

I've never seen soccer drills to increase physical aggressivenes, but any kid who plays competitively in the higher divisions can tell you that the higher and more competitive the division, the more aggressive.

However, many top level girl players have told me that inappropriate physical aggressiveness ("dirty play") is usually committed by girls or teams that are playing up and don't know how to be physical without being dirty.

Also, in football (soccer) you must distinguish between cards given for unsafe and dirty play and dissent. Many kids dissent who don't play dirty. But verbal dissent can get you yellow and red cards. And many yellow cards given for supposedly "violent" acts are mistakes of mis-timing by missing the ball, but are not intentionally violent.

And it also depends on the skill of the ref. Good refs keep play clean and fast. Bad refs can heighten dirty play if they make many bad and inappropriate calls. And bad refs can also slow down a game and interrupt the flow dramatically by calling too many fouls, which can also result in higher levels of physical aggressiveness.

The paper contains some revealing language, like this:

A large share of the non-violent fouls are for unsporting behavior, some of which is so aggressive as to seek to provoke a violent response (e.g., humiliating an opponent), and thus could also be interpreted as acts of violence.

Uh, OK. Trash talk as "acts of violence."


I don't like trash talk myself, especially in youth sports and even more especially by parents, but it happens in all sports, and good players learn to ignore it.

To equate trash talk with an act of violence may fit into an academic's view of the world, but I wonder how many soccer players or adults in general would agree with that characterization.

"I don't follow basketball, so what are all those penalty shots about?"

That's exactly it. Was that even penalized during the game? You do one of those in basketball and you are gone.

And, this is one of those things that if you haven't played you aren't going to understand. Basketball can be very rough, but there are guidelines around it that are completely different from soccer. I am assuming this having played against soccer players who play basketball rough but in a completely different and unacceptable way from how basketball is played.

If I were to put a theory out there, it would be related to how easy it would be to injure someone in basketball. I'm sure I'll get disagreements but it is the most dynamically athletic major sport.

@J. Goard: thank you; I now know that in Amerenglish a "region" means something bigger than a country. I already knew what "robust" meant. And yet I still can't see how what they wrote could be decoded; so, I repeat, thank you.

I agree with the first comment. Perhaps there is reverse causality or the variables of interest are co-determined (the country has civil war because its people are more violent). I don't know that they have controlled for that.

The "years of civil war" is somewhat questionable. What gives rise to the four years of civil war in the US. The paper breaks the UK into it's four constituent parts (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). For a paper looking at international football this is fine as all four are individual members of FIFA. This is unlike the International Olympic Committee where the four countries combine under the Great Britain banner.

The civil war data is reported for the UK and in the paper each of the four countries is given the overall UK observation of 13 years of civil war. This number is strictly only applicable to Northern Ireland as "The Troubles" were largely confined to that country. The Troubles had no impact in Scotland and Wales and only very rarely spread to England.

There was no civil war on the island of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) during the sample period. Northern Ireland and Ireland share the same island and there was much more cross-border involvement in The Troubles yet the civil war observation for Ireland is zero years of civil war. I believe this to be a true reflection on the situation.

In total the data set has 289 years of civil war but the observations on England, Scotland, Wales and the US should all read zero. The results in a loss of 43 years of civil war or close on 15% of the total. I think it would be important to redo the analysis given that the key independent variable contains some serious errors.

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