The unintended conseuqences of sports rules: Olympic examples sought

Liam Lenten and I recently published an article in the European Journal of Operational Research entitled “When Sports Rules Go Awry“. The essence of the article is to look at examples when sports rules had unintended consequences. For example, there are cases when it is beneficial for a team to score an own goal in a football match.

We would argue that this is an unintended consequence of the rules, as the incentives have not been well defined..

In our paper, there are many examples drawn from the Olympics. For example, and to quote from the paper:

In the initial stages of the badminton competition in the 2012 Olympics, eight women players (both South Korea teams and one team each from China and Indonesia) were disqualified from the competition. The women were charged with “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.” They were found guilty of trying to throw matches in order to get (perceived) easier draws in the knockout stages of the competition.

As the 2016 Olympics are in full swing in Rio, we thought that it was worth asking if there had been any examples where the rules had been abused, or they had led to unintended consequences? If you have any examples, please share them with us through the comments.

We would like to maintain an up to date library of examples and your help would be much appreciated.

Just for completeness, the abstract of the paper is below.


Mike Wright (Wright, M. OR analysis of sporting rules – A survey. European Journal of Operational Research, 232(1):1–8, 2014) recently presented a survey of sporting rules from an Operational Research (OR) perspective. He surveyed 21 sports, which consider the rules of sports and tournaments and whether changes have led to unintended consequences. The paper concludes: “Overall, it would seem that this is just a taster and there may be plenty more such studies to come”. In this paper we present one such study.

This is an interdisciplinary paper, which cuts across economics, sport and operational research (OR). We recognize that the paper could have been published in any of these disciplines but for the sake of continuity with the paper that motivated this study, we wanted to publish this paper in an OR journal. We look at specific examples where the rules of sports have led to unforeseen and/or unwanted consequences. We hope that the paper will be especially useful to sports administrators, helping them to review what has not previously worked and also encouraging them to engage with the scientific community when considering making changes.

We believe that this is the first time that such a comprehensive review of sporting rules, which have led to unexpected consequences, has been published in the scientific literature.

This post was also published on LinkedIn.

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