Believe It or Not, Lifting World Cup Could All Hinge on the 'Birthday Paradox'

Cape Times (South Africa), June 17, 2014 | Go to article overview

Believe It or Not, Lifting World Cup Could All Hinge on the 'Birthday Paradox'


BYLINE: Alastair Himmer

TOKYO: Mathematicians are running the rule over the World Cup - less for the quality of the football than for the chance to prove an intriguing statistical quirk called the "Birthday Paradox".

Strange as it may sound, 16 of the 32 teams at the World Cup have players who share a birthday, though mathematicians are far less surprised than the rest of us.

Statisticians have known for some time there is a slightly more than 50% chance that in any group of 23 people, two of them will have the same birthday.

While it appears to defy logic, the "Birthday Paradox" stacks up. And delightfully, the World Cup, with its 32 teams of 23-man squads, proves it exactly.

"It might look far-fetched," Japan-based mathematician Peter Frankl told AFP. "Mathematics deals in the counter-intuitive on a daily basis.

"When people make millions on the stock exchange or try to predict the future, you are talking about the theory of probability."

However improbable it sounds, precisely half the competing teams have at least one shared special day, and five have two pairs of birthdays.

No coincidence, explained Frankl.

"It is hard to convince people but it's almost always exact," said the Hungarian. "Actually with 32 teams and 23 people, 50 percent is less than the expected result, mathematically speaking."

Frankl says one need only think back to school when many people would have shared a birthday with a classmate - the probability of two schoolchildren in a class of 30 sharing a birthday being 70%. …

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