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Global study of penalty cards in professional football

The brand new CIES Football Observatory Monthly Report compares 87 top divisions worldwide from the point of view of the number of yellow and red cards given by referees between 2015 and 2020.

The study highlights great differences according to country and reveals the existence of significant correlations between the amount of cards per match and many socio-economic indicators for nations.

The number of cards varies considerably according to the confederation of belonging of the leagues studied. At one extreme, in South America (CONMEBOL), referees handed out on average 5.83 cards per match. This figure is 45% higher than that observed in the 15 Asian (AFC) leagues included in the study (4.00). Invariably, away teams receive more cards than home ones.

The gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI) are inversely correlated to the quantity of cards. This indicates that the matches played in nations whose inhabitants enjoy a higher standard of living and education are less fraught, or at least are less sanctioned by the referee corps.

A significant positive statistical correlation was also measured between the amount of cards and the homicide rate per country. The violence present in a society thus seems to be transposed to football.

In addition, the more citizens consider that the level of corruption in their country is high, the more referees are likely to hand out cards. This result could reflect the existence of a social climate where distrust and suspicion are rife.

These findings show that football matches take place under different dynamics according to the social, economic, political and cultural context of the country in which they are played. They confirm the very strong link between football and society and reveal the importance of taking into account the specifics of countries for a fine analysis of the game even in a context of globalisation.

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About the CIES Football Observatory

The CIES Football Observatory is a research group within the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES). Created in 2005 by Dr. Raffaele Poli and Dr. Loïc Ravenel, the CIES Football Observatory currently comprises a staff of four full-time permanent researchers who specialise in the statistical analysis of football. Click here for more information.

About the CIES

The International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) is an independent study centre located in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It was created in 1995 as a joint venture between the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the University of Neuchâtel, the City and State of Neuchatel. Click here for more information. Click here for more information.

CIES – Centre International d’Étude du Sport
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Phone +41 32 718 39 00 - Fax +41 32 718 39 01
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The editors of  the Journal Sports Law & Taxation are Professor Ian Blackshaw and Dr Rijkele Betten, with specialist contributions from the world's leading practitioners and academics in the sports law and taxation fields.

The Editors

Managing editor
Dr. Rijkele Betten

Consulting editor
Prof. Dr. Ian S. Blackshaw

Editorial board

Prof. Guglielmo Maisto
Maisto e Associati, Milano

Dr. Dick Molenaar
All Arts Tax Advisors, Rotterdam


Mr. Kevin Offer
Hardwick & Morris LLP, London

Mr. Mario Tenore
Maisto e Associati, Milano


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