BBC’s More Or Less on why the men’s FIFA rankings fail

One of the podcasts I listen to regularly, ‘More Or Less’ from the BBC, had the other day an episode about the (men’s) FIFA rankings. In the episode they discuss a shortcoming in the ranking system that makes it possible for a team to loose points (and thus ranking position) despite winning a match. The reason for this is not fully explained, but looking closer at the descriptions provided at I think I see where the problem lies. After each match, rating points are given to the winner (or split if there is a draw). The crucial thing here is that friendly matches (or other non-important matches) gives fewer points than important tournament matches. The published ratings then are basically an average over the points earned for the matches played in the last couple of years. That means that winning a friendly match sometimes will yield fewer than a team’s average points, thus decreasing the average.

Unfortunately the episode did not mention the women’s FIFA ranking system which is based on the much better Elo system, used in chess rankings (and which I have written about previously). In this sort of system a win will almost surely give more points, and not less (the worst case scenario for a win is that no points are earned).

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