Rethinking the FIFA World Cup final draw
Bloomberg LP. New York, US
The soccer World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world, even more widely viewed and followed than the Olympic Games. In this talk, we critically examine a number of flaws in the current procedure for the final draw of this tournament: imbalance (the eight groups are not of the same competitive level), unfairness (some teams have a greater chance than others of ending up in a tough group), and uneven distribution (all the possible outcomes of the draw are not equally likely). These flaws result from the way FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, has decided to enforce the geographic constraints that they put on the draw. We explain how, by building eight pots by level organized in an S-curve, and drawing first a continental distribution of the groups and then the teams, we can enforce the geographic constraints without sacrificing balance, fairness, and even distribution. As a result, we describe a new tractable draw procedure that produces eight balanced and geographically diverse groups, is fair to all teams, and gives equally likely outcomes. Monte Carlo simulations demonstrate the superiority of the proposed method over the current system in terms of balance, fairness, and even distribution.