Institutions bid for World Cup glory

June 7, 2002

Beckham, Henry and Ronaldo are not the only ones looking for glory in the World Cup. Their counterparts in university media relations have been working hard to highlight links between their institutions and the event, writes Steve Farrar.

Press releases from more than a dozen universities have been issued to coincide with the World Cup, while many others have prepared lists of experts primed for instant analysis on everything from hooliganism to the psychology of winning.

Among the most ambitious press releases were those predicting results. France's shock defeat at the hands of Senegal was forecast by a statistical model created by Henry Stott at Warwick University. It also made Argentina the most likely champions, while England was given a 62 per cent of qualifying from the group stage.

A five-strong focus group at the University of Ulster initially concluded that Argentina would beat Italy in the final but finally opted for a Brazil triumph over Italy after running a statistical simulation of the tournament 2,000 times.

Other research promoted in press releases included a study that concluded the World Cup would spark a boom in internet betting (Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities); the labelling of the competition as "one of the most socially irresponsible organisations on the planet" after analysis of ethics and transparency (Middlesex University); a survey that found 71 per cent of business managers think a win for their national side will boost productivity (Henley Management College) and the prediction that an early exit for England could knock 25 points off the FTSE 100 index (Leeds University).

Among the more optimistic punts were "Beckham's Foot - Expert Opinion" from University College Northampton; "Top academic puts the boot in with World Cup quiz book" from Nottingham Trent; and Birmingham's "University set to go football crazy".

Every year, researchers ask how top strikers bend the ball. This time Sheffield University unveiled a team of engineers who used wind tunnels, high-speed video and computer modelling to "reveal the footballers'

secrets" while Aston physicist Robert Matthews used less extravagant techniques to reach similar conclusions.

There was even a deceptively late ball that reached the back of the net - research that identified the key area of the pitch. When this story was picked up by national newspapers two weeks ago it came as a pleasant surprise to Liverpool John Moores' press officers - they issued the release shortly after the last World Cup in 1998.

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