OXFORD REVIEW OF ECONOMIC POLICY, VOL. 19, NO. 4
Sabotage as an activity has been considered in bothindustrial and labour economics. In the context of competition between firms, sabotage may be thoughtof as an act of raising rivals’ costs (Salop andScheffman, 1983). In the context of an internallabour market, sabotage may be one kind of re-sponse to the use of tournament incentives (Lazear,1989). In the first case, sabotage is clearly beneficialto the perpetrator since it weakens competition.However, in the latter case the effect is ambiguous,since, although the sabotage may have a directeffect on expected returns by raising the probabilityof winning the prize, if the sabotage indirectlyaffects the productivity of the firm then this may, infact, reduce the expected income of the firm. Forthis reason, Lazear suggested that employers willreduce the spread between winning and losing inorder to ensure that co-workers cooperate. A simi-lar argument can be applied to a sporting competi-tion. The attractiveness of a sporting contest de-pends on the balance of the competition (the uncer-tainty-of-outcome hypothesis) and the quality of theperformance. If sabotage reduces the quality of theperformance of the opposition, then, even if itincreases the contestant’s probability of winning, itmay reduce the contestant’s expected return. This,then, would seem to be an argument in favour of reduced incentives for winning.Sabotage in sports can take a number of forms:
illegally restraining or assaulting competitors;
attempting to provoke illegal responses fromcompetitors (e.g. by goading);
attempting to persuade the referee that oppo-nents have engaged in illegal acts.
Each of these tends to undermine the attractivenessof a sporting contest to spectators, because it limitsthe opportunity to observe the skills of the opposingteam or generally slows down the game with toomany interventions from the officials. Thus, sabo-tage reduces productivity of the sporting competi-tors and makes their joint product less attractive.Garicano and Palacios-Huerta (2000) suggest thata recent change in the rewards for winning in leaguefootball provides a natural experiment to test thehypothesis that increasing the prize spread increasessabotage activity. During the 1980s most nationalsoccer moved from a system of awarding two pointsfor every match won to three, with the intention of increasing the incentive to win matches.
Garicanoand Palacios-Huerta found that the change wasassociated with a significant increase in sabotageactivity measured by the number of yellow cardsawarded.
They also found no tendency for thenumbers of goals scored to increase, hence con-firming the insight of Lazear, that a larger prizespread can lead to increased sabotage and reducedproductivity. However, there is no evidence that thisled to any reduction in fan interest.Sabotage is a particular problem in contests withsmall numbers of players, a point stressed by Konrad(2000). In a two-person contest, any reduction in theopponent’s probability of success leads to a one-for-one increase in one’s own probability of success.However, with many contestants, sabotage aimedat a particular rival provides an externality for all theother rivals and only a small gain for the perpetrator,making sabotage unlikely to be privately profitable incontests with large numbers. This suggests thatcontest designers should seek to organize contestswith many competitors. Of course, in a soccer orbaseball match there can only be two teams, andthese institutional constraints are binding. There isalso a more subtle problem with this prescription.Increasing the number of competitors in a contestcan be shown, for a wide variety of plausiblefunctional forms, to reduce individual effort, andpossibly even aggregate effort (Nti , 1997). Thus,
To this list we might add the case of deceiving the referee as to what has occurred in the game. For example, it has been traditionalin cricket that, whenever a batsmen knows himself to be out, he should ‘walk’, i.e. quit the field, even if the umpire is unable todetermine whether the batman truly was ‘out’. However, in recent years this tradition has more or less died out, and most batsmenwait for the umpire to decide, and may even try to suggest by their body language that they were not, in fact, ‘out’. However, inmost professional sports it has long been the case that umpires and referees pay no attention at all to the opinions of the players.
In the world of soccer a draw (or tie) has always been considered a legitimate outcome. In the USA, sports leagues have tendedto adopt rules that guarantee each match produces a winner, thus avoiding the problem.
In soccer a yellow card is shown to player who commits one of a number of offences, principally related to illegal tackles onopponents or seeking to intimidate the referee. Two yellow cards shown to a player in the same game leads to dismissal from thepitch, and accumulating yellow cards over a number of matches can lead to suspension.