Highly read on www.njp.org in September
The distribution of scores and prize money in sport is governed by the same power laws that determine the distribution of city size or wealth: a few top-ranked players and teams accumulate the vast majority of the prizes.
Wei Li of Central China Normal University in Wuhan and his colleagues came to this conclusion after studying ranking data from 12 sports, including golf, tennis and snooker. Detailed analysis of the tennis data revealed that when any two players compete, the probability that the higher-ranked player will win is related to the difference in the individuals' rankings. Moreover, the data from all 12 sports seem to follow the Pareto principle, or 80–20 rule: 20% of the players accumulate 80% of the points and money.