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Olympics serendipity #1

July 29th, 2012 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

This week I have been reading Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. It is a reprint of Why England Lose, with some revisions and updating and a title change to make it sound a bit more like the very successful Freakonomics book. It is a good read, covering all sorts of aspects of football and using various techniques from economics and behavioural economics to try and explain various aspects of football. Never has reading about regression to the mean, game theory or multiplicative probability been as interesting – such techniques are used to determine whether football is racist, tactics for penalty shootouts or strategies for player transfers and choosing team coaches.

On Thursday I got to the chapter about hosting major tournaments, which includes analysis of not just World Cups and Euros but also Olympics, so that was all fresh in my mind when I sat down to watch the London opening ceremony.The bad news first: whatever David Cameron or Boris Johnson said this week (or Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone back in 2005) it is unlikely that we will see any great economic benefit from hosting the games. In fact we are unlikely to see any economic benefit at all, based on studies of previous Olympics and major football tournaments.

The good news is that hosting a major event like this does seem to increase the happiness of the hosting country, especially if that country is relatively rich – which we still are, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. For Euros the effect lasted at least until the end of the year and for World Cups the effect was still there a year later. Presumably Olympics have a similar effect. For large chunks of the population the increase in happiness was calculated to be equivalent to the increase to be expected with a significant pay rise.

In fact, the authors calculated that the London Olympics could generate an amount of happiness that it would otherwise cost about £31Bn to generate if you did it by pay rises or tax breaks. This increase in happiness wasn’t even dependent on the host country’s own team winning.

Another interesting discovery was that happiness decreased before these major events, in some cases a year before them. The possibility is that there is some sort of national anxiety about whether the event will be successful.

It was fun to read this, speculate on how true it might be, and then within a day see some sort of proof as the national media responded to the opening ceremony – and also my own reaction to it. Generally we do seem to be happier almost immediately, and the nature and content of the ceremony will have helped with that, which could be largely attributable to a national sense of relief that the ceremony was not a disaster.

After seeing the spectacular ceremonies in China followed by a hands-in-pockes Boris waffling about ‘wiff waff’ and a London bus full of London stereotypes it was understandable to be a bit anxious that 2012 would see that extended to several hours of bowler hats, beefeaters and brollies interspersed with calculated insults to the rest of the world like parading the Elgin Marbles around the stadium, flypasts by Spitfires, and re-enactments of the Seige of Lucknow, Agincourt and the slave trade, so seeing a celebration of the NHS, the Worldwide Web, universal suffrage and so on was a pleasant surprise. To have all that with Mike Oldfield, Arctic Monkeys and Mr Rascal thrown in on top was even better.

So while we might not get the promised economic miracle, we should get some happiness and as we all now – you can’t buy happiness.

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