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cats, toxo and the world cup

July 2, 2010

[Slate] Could rates of Toxoplasma gondii infection predict soccer success?

If we set aside the qualifying rounds (in which teams can play to a draw) and focus on matches with a clear winner, the results are very compelling. In the knockout round of this year’s tournament, eight out of eight winners so far have been the teams whose countries had higher rates of Toxo infection. If we go back to the 2006 World Cup, seven out of eight knockout-round winners could be predicted by higher Toxo rates. The one exception to the rule was Brazil’s defeat of Ghana, a match between two nations that each have very high rates. (Aside from having the winningest team in World Cup history, Brazil has quite a few cases of Toxo: Two out of three Brazilians are infected.)

It gets better. Rank the top 25 FIFA team countries by Toxo rate and you get, in order from the top: Brazil (67 percent), Argentina (52 percent), France (45 percent), Spain (44 percent), and Germany (43 percent). Collectively, these are the teams responsible for eight of the last 10 World Cup overall winners. Spain, the only one of the group never to have won a cup, is no subpar outlier—the Spaniards have the most World Cup victories of any perpetual runner-up. (read)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. roxana permalink
    July 3, 2010 10:13 am

    i actually saw a documentary about this: “some studies have shown that those infected with Toxo have slower reaction times on certain tests than matched controls.” a concern about driving, for ex. but i found the article amusing. when i was young i happened upon a delightful book (though it is considered boring by many by usual standards) which taught me to be skeptical about such correlations, no matter how appealing they might appear, and that skillfully and playing upon inevitable coincidences one can demonstrate just about anything. (Eco – Foucault’s Pendulum)

  2. July 3, 2010 11:45 am

    i don’t put much store in this theory myself, but it is entertaining and it’s a fascinating little parasite (as all parasites are).

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