Discussion Papers

No.866 Do Politically Irrelevant Events Cause Conflict? The Cross-continental Effects of European Professional Football on Protests in Africa

by Kyosuke KIKUTA, Mamoru UESUGI

October 2022


We examine whether politically irrelevant events can cause conflicts, by analyzing the effects of professional football in Europe on protests in Africa—an unintended spillover across the continents. By expanding psychological theories, we argue that the outcomes of the football games in Europe can affect African people’s subjective evaluation of domestic politicians, which can in turn trigger protests. A regression discontinuity analysis of 15,102 close football games (2005-2019) reveals that a close loss of a European football team to which an African player belongs nearly doubles the rate of protest in his home country. The effect is particularly large for non-ethnic protests targeted at a central government. Moreover, people who are interviewed immediately after a close loss express 23% less trust in his/her country’s leader on average. By contrast, close victories do not have equivalent or compensating effects on protests or public opinion. These results suggest asymmetric misattribution; people in Africa blame domestic politicians and protest for the bad luck in the European football games, while they do not credit politicians or eschew protesting after victories.

Keywords: Football, Conflict, Psychology

JEL classification: D74, D91, Z29

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