Political bias in FIFA's international football rankings.

Every four years, certain confederations come asking for more places at the next World Cup.

These places are nearly always granted at the expense of Europe. In 2002, Asia gained 2 places as hosts and, despite the miserable performances of China and Saudi Arabia at the 'Asian' World Cup, they have not given them back.

Europe had 14 representatives in 2002 and still have 14 in 2006 including the hosts Germany. Presumably in 2010, Africa will gain a sixth place and, equally presumably, it will be Europe, and not Asia, who will be asked to give a place up to make room for it.

The reason for this is political. The traditional power-base of international football was the Europe - South America axis. This now accounts for only around 30% of FIFA membership. Asia and Africa together account for around 50% and FIFA elections can often be tight affairs swinging on a few votes.

Sepp Blatter secured many votes from Asia and Africa thanks to his policy of rotating world cup hosting amongst all confederations regardless of suitability. This has resulted in the Japan/Korea World Cup, and proposed future World Cups in China and Australia. By contrast, South America did not hosted a World Cup Finals Tournament between 1978 and 2014. Europeans will have to get used to hosting one tournament every 20 years rather than one every 8 years or fewer as has been the case up to now.

"What does all this have to do with the FIFA Rankings?" I hear you ask.

Why FootySimulator's international football rankings are superior to FIFA's international football rankings.

Well, the rankings you see on the FootySimulator site have been produced as a by-product of the data that drives the FootySimulator game engine (note: the rankings themselves are not actually used to drive it). These statistics are born out of a search for truth and an attempt to win money at the expense of bookmakers. The FootySimulator data is self-correcting. If a team performs above itself, its rating will improve. The reverse is also true. When a team underperforms, its rankings improve while teams that underperform see a dip in theirs. Good teams and bad teams eventually find their true level in the FootySimulator system.

So to the point...

Compare the April 2006 FIFA top 20 with the FootySimulator top 20 for the same period.

FIFA RankingRk. FootySimulator Ranking
Czech Republic2Brazil
Holland3Czech Republic
Nigeria12Serbia & Montenegro
Japan17Republic of Ireland
Startling, isn't it ?

Problems with FIFA's international football rankings.

The FIFA rankings do incorporate friendly results, which I believe is a mistake technically as it incorporates misleading information (see other pages). This practice disadvantages countries who do not take friendlies seriously, for example Germany. But somehow the FIFA rankings manage to consistently over-rate countries from those Confederations that FIFA is trying to increase World Cup representation for. And specifically they seem to marking down European teams. Are Germany really worse than Japan or Egypt ? Are France, Portugal and England inferior to the USA and Mexico ?

If the world's genuine top 32 teams were taking part in the World Cup Finals, around three-quarters of this number would be from Europe. The rest would be mainly divided up between South America and Africa. Nobody wants to see a World Cup without any regional diversity but it looks to me like FIFA has biased its own ranking system to suit a political agenda.

This is not a whinge by a conservative European who hates progress and change. There is a noticeable progression in African and North American football - and this is reflected in the FootySimulator statistics. An ever increasing number of African nations are now inhabiting FS ranking positions between 20th and 50th places and good performances by anyone in the forthcoming world cup will drive up that nation's points totals.

Kazahkstan left the AFC for UEFA in time to take part in the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers. Their FootySimulator ranking suggested they would perform far better than they actually did.

Kazakhstan's underachievement is driving their ranking downwards. This suggests to me that, far from the FootySimulator rankings overestimating the strength of European football, the reverse is true. So what does that say about the FIFA rankings ?

A final point about the FIFA rankings. Why did FIFA organise the World Cup draw so that all the unranked European nations were in the same pot ? Why were FIFA rankings not used ? Why also were Serbia & Montenegro given their own pot so there would be no groups with 3 European sides ? Presumably because FIFA didn't want a totally lop-sided world cup.

So the question is: do FIFA truly believe in their own rankings ?