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Red is a recipe for sporting success

May 18, 2005 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

The colour you wear can influence your chances of victory.

Seeing red might not always be the best strategy in the heat of sporting battle, but wearing it might be. Research suggests that wearing a scarlet outfit can give a competitor that vital edge.

The discovery comes from an analysis of combat events in last year's Olympic Games in Athens. In four of these events (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling) combatants are randomly assigned either blue or red outfits.

Those wearing red won 55% of all competitions, report Russell Hill and Robert Barton of the University of Durham, UK. In bouts deemed to be evenly matched, the bearers of red did even better, winning more than 60% of the time.

I'm very pleased that [my own team] Liverpool wears red.
Russell Hill
University of Durham, UK
The reasons for this red advantage are unclear. A red face is commonly associated with anger and aggression, so a bright red shirt or headgear may intimidate an opponent, suggests Hill, who unveils his results in this week's Nature1. Alternatively, red clothes could actually boost the wearer's testosterone levels, he says: "Maybe you get a surge when you pull on that red shirt."

Red army

Elsewhere in the animal kingdom, red coloration is a marker of high testosterone and superior physical fitness. This has led to some strange effects in studies of animal behaviour, says Hill: some male birds given brightly-coloured leg bands for identification in long-term experiments have found themselves catapulted to the top of the mating ranks, he says.

In human societies, red's aggressive, winning quality may explain why many military uniforms and medals feature the colour, comments Andrew Walton, a sports psychologist based in Coventry, UK.

But colour choice can also have a cultural basis, Walton points out. Red might not be the top colour around the world. "If you have faith that purple is an imperial colour, then you will be happy wearing purple," he says.

Team colours

Hill and Barton also suggest that red makes teams perform better. They looked at last year's Euro 2004 soccer tournament in Portugal, and in particular at the five teams that wore two different colours, one of them red, in different games during the competition.

Those teams tended to perform better when wearing red as opposed to their other colours, they claim. "We were surprised at how consistent the effect seems to be," Hill says.

Of course, a red kit is no full substitute for talent. After all, the perennially successful Brazilian national team wears yellow. But elsewhere the correlation seems to be borne out: England's two most historically successful clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool, both have red in their uniforms.

As a Liverpool supporter, Hill has high hopes for his team when they contest the European Champions League final on 25 May, particularly as they will be wearing their traditional scarlet. "I'm very pleased they're wearing red," he says. "They were appalling when they wore their yellow kit this season."


  1. Hill R. A. & Barton R. A. et al. Nature, 435. 293 (2005).


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