What is the measure of a nation’s sports prowess? How are institutions to determine which countries are the best in sport, and what factors contribute to it? These are questions that Dr. Nadim Nassif, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Education and Physical Education at the Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) Faculty of Humanities (FH), has sought to answer for the past six years now, with his World Rankings of Countries in Elite Sport.
Traditionally, researchers, media, and sports leaders use the Olympic Medal Table as the main metric to determine performance in sport, but according to Dr. Nassif the table has several shortcomings which make it a less than ideal system. “[In the Olympic Medal Table] a gold medal is superior to any number of silver and one silver superior to any number of bronzes, and if you’re fourth you don’t get anything, this is one of the problems. Another problem is that you don’t weigh the sport. In basketball for example, it’s highly competitive, you have more than 200 countries competing and a lot of money involved, so it’s much more difficult for a country to be top in basketball, all this for one medal. Whereas, if you have a couple of athletes in a sport that very few people play, you can get many more medals that a sport that is much more common and much more competitive. Plus, the Olympic table doesn’t take the results in the football world cup, so if you manage to make it to a quarter final of a world cup, it’s not considered by the medal table.”
By contrast, Dr. Nassif’s World Rankings of Countries in Elite Sport uses a weighted points system to evaluate the performance of 206 countries in 112 sports, Olympics and non-Olympic sports. Each sport is assigned a coefficient based on its popularity – how widespread the media coverage is, and therefore how extensive the funding – and universality – how many nations take part – and then countries score points based on their performance in them. This weighted evaluation not only allows for a clearer picture of a country’s performance when ranked against the rest of the world, but also takes into account nations that would otherwise be overlooked. “If you take the medal rankings, it only ranks the medals, which covers only 42% of the countries (which get medals),” said Dr. Nassif. “What about Lebanon, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, how can you rank them? They didn’t get any medals, but my system was able to rank everyone.”
Since he first presented his ranking system in Algeria in 2015, the World Rankings of Countries in Sport have amassed significant recognition. The results from 2014 through to 2019 have been published by the Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive (AIPS), the main professional body representing the international sports media, with more than 9,500 members worldwide. Recognition by AIPS is of particular significance, as the organization is itself recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the main federations of each sport and country.
Dr. Nassif has also formalized his findings in an academic paper of the same name, published in the Italian Journal, Rivista di Diritto ed Economia Dello Sport. “In terms of academic research it got several citations, I went to universities all around the world including Harvard to present this ranking. Now it is being considered by international sports bodies to be recognized.” In an email to Dr. Nassif about the ranking system, Pierre Germeau, Head of Digital Services at the Global Association of International Sport Federations (GAISF), said, “We have been impressed by the quality of the World Ranking of Countries in Elite Sports and more specifically about the methodological choices and the amount of data collected. Therefore, I will make sure inform our members (which are all the recognized international sports federations such as FIFA, FIBA, IAAF, FINA, ITF, FIVB...) about the existence and benefits of Mr Nassif ranking.”
The extensive data collection that goes into the rankings is already providing fuel for Dr. Nassif’s future research. “With this methodology you can find accurate correlations between sports and population, research, and GDP. This is my second research, I’m writing a book on it, what are the factors that make a country successful in sport, because all those who did analysis on this, they based their analysis on the medal table and you don’t get a holistic view if you take the Olympic table.” With such a thorough methodology behind it, Dr. Nassif’s future research is definitely something to watch.