By Brian Homewood
AARHUS, Denmark (Reuters) – A Chilean mathematician says he has devised a tournament format in which every match will count and which solves the problem of how to organise a 24, 36 or even 50-team competition.
The search for an ideal format is one which has perennially troubled organisers.
The easiest are those tournaments which have eight, 16 or 32 teams and are traditionally divided into groups of four with the top two in each qualifying for a knockout stage.
Yet where there is an awkward number of teams, such as next year’s 24-team Euro 2016, complex formats are used, such as the best four third-placed teams qualifying.
Even where the format is simple, teams can often qualify, or be eliminated, with a group game to spare, resulting in a flurry of meaningless games halfway through the competition.
Worse still, some groups end with a game where both teams can qualify with a given result.
One of the most infamous was West Germany’s 1-0 win over Austria at the 1982 World Cup which sent both sides into the knockout stages at the expense of Algeria.
Another was the women’s badminton tournament at the 2012 Olympics, when four women’s doubles pairs deliberately played to lose their matches in farcical scenes at Wembley Arena.
So what’s the answer?
Leandro Shara says it involves doing away with groups and having a single league table for all teams involved — but without every team having to play each other.
Shara, who two years ago set up a company called MatchVision to promote the system, uses a 36-team competition as an example.
The teams would be divided into three seeding pots according to rankings and would play one team from each pot, including their own, for a total of three matches apiece.
The top eight in the league table would then qualify for a knockout phase.
The system, he said, could be adapted according to how many teams are involved and how many matches the organisers want each side to play. The software can even be programmed to produce an extra round of derby matches.
With so many possible combinations of results, it would be impossible for teams to know which result they needed in their final game to qualify, he said, and qualifying with a match to spare would be “almost impossible”.
“The probability of a situation where teams have a chance to manipulate games is very, very low,” he said.
Another advantage is that there will be matches between lower-ranked teams and games between top teams in the qualifying phase.
“Small teams will have a chance to play other small teams, which doesn’t happen today,” he told Reuters at the Play the Game conference.
The system was used in this year’s Copa Peru, a huge nationwide tournament in the Andean country in which the winners qualify for the following season’s top flight.
In the so-called “national stage”, 50 teams were put together in the same group and then played six matches each, with the top 16 qualifying for a knockout stage.
“Nobody was qualified after the fifth match day and only three teams were eliminated,” said Shara. “The teams played more matches with less travelling.”
Other competitions which could benefit would be the Copa America, with 12 teams, and the rugby World Cup, with 20.
Shara admitted that teams would be competing against other teams they would not meet on the field, but he said that also happened in tournaments where the best third-placed side criteria applied.
Shara was due to meet representatives of the badminton and hockey federations this week, he said.
“We have thought of everything, we have more than 30 solutions for sport,” he said. “We think this is the future of international competition.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)