Happy Birthday to you!

What is so exciting about the FIFA World Cup that every 4 years, the world goes crazy and productivity stoops down you ask?

Among various reasons, what really got me excited was the notion of what mathematicians call ‘The Birthday Paradox.’

The notion of paradox itself is mysterious enough to generate excitement but when put together with birthdays and a world cup, it creates a rather mouthwatering puzzle!

Now if you don’t like numbers or hate math, you wouldn’t want to go reading beyond this line. Your time will be better spent watching a world cup game or eating someone’s birthday cake.

Simply put, The Birthday Paradox states that “In a group of 23 people, there is more than 50% chance that 2 people share the same birthday assuming each day of the year is equally probable for a birthday.”

Baffling! Right? Mathematics you are drunk!!

At least that was the thought that first came to my mind. If you haven’t already made the connection, FIFA World Cup is one of the few times when 32 groups of 23 team members compete for the most coveted trophy in the history of this game.

All credit to BBC, who took the trouble to try and test this paradox. According to them, using the birthdays from Fifa’s official squad lists as of Tuesday 10 June, it turns out there are indeed 16 teams with at least one shared birthday – 50% of the total. Five of those teams, in fact, have two pairs of birthdays.

The list is: Spain, Colombia, Switzerland (x2), USA, Iran (x2), France (x2), Argentina (x2), South Korea (x2), Cameroon, Australia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Russia, Netherlands, Brazil, Honduras and Nigeria.

I wasn’t convinced at first as well until I read through the explanation. If only I had paid more attention in High School…

Like the paradox itself, the origin of the problem itself is obscure. Nobody quite knows who was responsible for this. If you find out, let me know.

I can hear the mathematician gods chuckling somewhere hidden behind those numbers….


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