Do Politically Irrelevant Events Cause Conflict? The Cross-continental Effects of European Professional Football on Protests in Africa
65 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2021 Last revised: 29 Jun 2022
Date Written: April 15, 2021
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 in turn can trigger protests. By exploiting as-if random variation in the results of 15,102 close football games conditional on betting odds, we find that compared to draw games, close losses of African players’ teams increase peaceful protests in their original countries while not changing the likelihood of riots or armed conflicts. The effect is particularly large for non-ethnic protests targeted at a central government. Moreover, close losses also temporarily decrease people’s trust in their country’s leader. By contrast, close victories do not have equivalent or compensating effects on protests or public opinion. These results suggest asymmetric misattribution; people in Africa unreasonably 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: Conflict, Protest, Psychology, Attribution, Sports, Football, Africa
JEL Classification: D74, D91, L83, Z29
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation