Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Is the World Cup Bad for Your Health?

• June 09, 2010 • 5:00 AM

Researchers find a spike in heart problems among European soccer fans during World Cup matches, while other studies show the players on the pitch are suffering fewer injuries.

Is watching the World Cup hazardous to your health? Well, let’s put it this way: If your country’s team is losing, keep a defibrillator handy. A British Medical Journal analysis found the risk of being admitted to an English hospital for acute myocardial infarction on June 30, 1998 — the day England lost to Argentina in a particularly tense World Cup match, decided by a penalty kick shoot-out — was 25 percent higher than average for that day of the year. The spike in hospitalizations for heart attacks — about 55 more than otherwise would be expected — continued for two more days, suggesting the emotional turmoil of the loss and/or the drinking binges it provoked did not subside quickly.

Cardiologists on the continent have noticed the same correlation. A study in the International Journal of Cardiology compared incidents of sudden cardiac death in Switzerland during the 2002 World Cup compared to the same period one year earlier. It reported a 77 percent increase in such fatalities among men and a 33 percent increase among women. And a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the number of cardiac emergencies in metropolitan Munich was 2.66 times greater during the 2006 World Cup than compared to the weeks just before and after the event. Concluding that “preventative measures are urgently needed” before the next tournament, the authors offered a series of suggestions, ranging from cognitive therapy to “the administration or increase in dose of beta-adrenergic-blocking drugs.”

But there’s no need for beta-blockers in Bordeaux. An article in the journal Heart reported the number of deaths from myocardial infarction in French men was “significantly lower” on the final day of the 1998 World Cup compared with five days before or after. The match was a huge event in France — something like 40 percent of the population tuned in — and it took place in the evening, meaning the lower heart attack rate was largely recorded during the hours leading up to the first kick. The researchers speculate that the “immense fervor and collective euphoria” of fans may have compensated for the higher stress levels and increase in alcohol consumption, resulting in a net health gain. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the French team won.

Finally, in Scotland, a team of psychiatrists reported “reductions in emergency psychiatric presentations to hospital occurred during and after the finals of the World Cup football competitions” in a 1990 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry. They suggested this could be the result of the “enhancement of national identity and cohesion” experienced by watching the national team in action. Soccer: It’ll keep you sane, if it doesn’t kill you.

So what about the health of the players themselves? According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, 171 injuries were reported during the 64 matches of the 2002 World Cup, for an average of 2.7 per match. Seventy-three percent were the result of contact with another player. A follow-up report on the 2006 World Cup by some of the same researchers reported 145 injuries for those 64 matches, reducing the rate to 2.3 per match.

One apparent reason for the welcome decline: “In the 2006 World Cup, the national teams had a longer period for preparation” than in 2002, when the tournament began almost immediately after the end of the domestic season for many teams. The athletes were better rested, and pre-existing injuries had more time to heal.

In addition, new rules were implemented “protecting players from tackles with the highest propensity to cause injury,” the researchers reported. “The International Football Association Board gave referees the authority to severely sanction what were felt to be injurious fouls such as intentional elbows to the head.” A change that, in retrospect, is clearly a no-brainer.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.