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Olympian judgments
How to detect nationalism in winter-sport judges
Even the ostensibly impartial seem susceptible
FEB 12TH 2022

Imagine hurling yourself down a slope on skis for 100 metres—then running out of ground. You must drop into the frigid air, glide at a speed of 90kmph for five seconds, and somehow land gracefully 100 metres downhill. Winning a gold medal for ski jumping requires fearlessness, a quality very much in keeping with Olympian ideals. But some athletes may be helped by biased judging, which is not.

Ski jumping is scored not just on the distance leapt, but on style, which accounts for around two-fifths of an athlete’s score. That aesthetic judgment is made by a panel of five judges of different nationalities, who assess each jump on a scale of 0 to 20. The best and worst scores are discarded, in an attempt to neutralise individual bias. Yet some still persists. Judges, shockingly, seem to favour athletes from their home countries.

That is the assessment of a recent paper by Alex Krumer of Molde University College in Norway, along with two colleagues, after examining 15,355 ski jumps in men’s competitions held from 2010 to 2017. After controlling for factors such as the leniency of individual judges and the quality of ski-jumpers, they found that nationalist bias was modest but widespread. The average bias was an additional 0.1 points. Nearly half of judges favoured compatriots in a way that was statistically significant.

At the Winter Olympics (which are currently being held in Beijing), patriotism may run especially high, and bias seems to increase. When we augmented the study by adding more Olympic results to the original data, we found that average bias nearly doubled to 0.18 points. The Economist asked the Fédération Internationale de Ski (fis), the sport’s governing body, for comment. fis said it was unaware of the paper and declined further comment.

Bias differs markedly by country. The greatest favouritism, according to the authors of the study, comes from Russian judges, who award an additional 0.2 points on average. Polish and French judges are in the middle of the pack. The typical Norwegian or Finnish judge demonstrates no detectable bias. Interestingly, the bias of a country’s ski-jumping judges is correlated with that country’s overall level of corruption, as measured by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Widespread favouritism rarely affects the results, however. There are two reasons for this. First, the bias is small in comparison with the natural variation in judges’ scores that occurs by chance (roughly 0.3 points). Second, the discarding of the highest and lowest scores means that especially biased scores are often not counted. Our counterfactual analysis of the 203 competitions examined between 2010 and 2017, in which nationalist bias was eliminated, found that only 14 medals (or 2.3%) would have changed hands.

This is hardly the first finding of bias in sport—or even the most egregious. One study on figure skating, another Olympic event, found that nationalist favouritism was roughly 60% larger than it is in ski jumping. Another paper, first published in 2007, found that American referees for the National Basketball Association (nba) called fewer fouls against players of their own race. After widespread media attention, the nba changed its policies for reviewing contested calls. A follow-up paper six years later found that this bias had disappeared entirely. Admission is often the first step to recovery. ■

Sources: “Nationalistic bias amonginternational experts”, by A. Krumer, F. Otto & T. Pawlowski, Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 2021; Getty Images




这是挪威莫尔德大学学院的Alex Krumer和两位同事在研究了2010年至2017年举行的男子比赛中的15355个跳台后得出的评价。在控制了个别裁判的宽松程度和跳台滑雪运动员的质量等因素后,他们发现民族主义偏见不大,但很普遍。平均偏差是额外的0.1分。近一半的裁判偏向于同胞,这在统计学上是显著的。





来源。"Nationalistic bias amonginternational experts", by A. Krumer, F. Otto & T. Pawlowski, Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 2021; Getty Images
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