June 20, 2014 at 4:37 PM ET
For many, the World Cup represents the best in soccer, religiously watched for amazing saves and incredible goals. For non-sports fans, the reason to watch the World Cup is more primal. You have to consciously avert your eyes to avoid all the "Hot World Cup Player Lists" or as website Jezebel asks "Did you know the World Cup is full of hotties?"
Germany’s Thomas Mueller and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, both forwards, have serious futbol skills, but are almost as famous for their supermodel sex appeal. The Croatian soccer team protested over published photos of them swimming nude at the team pool, victims of a paparazzi ambush. What is it about soccer?
“It is quite likely that elite soccer players are more attractive than the general population … they are young men who work out a lot, spend a lot of time outside and who are generally healthy,” writes evolutionary biologist Erik Postma, a research scientist at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at University of Zurich. “Furthermore, fame, wealth and success make you more attractive.”
Yeah, but other professional athletes are rich and famous, so it has to be more than that.
Evolutionarily, women were attracted to males because they thought they’d be good mates, research indicates. Strong jaws, washboard abs, muscular arms and legs once meant that a man would be a good provider, making him a more desirable partner.
“[A]t least some of the things that make for a good soccer player (strong, fast and healthy) also make for a good husband and father,” says Postma.
Soccer players like Ronaldo have lean, well-defined muscles with almost no body fat. Long legs, powerful thighs and lean body are combined with high endurance levels.
“When it comes to male attractiveness, there is a lot of emphasis on strength. However … it might have been particularly important to have a high endurance performance,” says Postma, who studied the attractiveness of Tour de France athletes. People thought cyclists with better endurance were hotter.
Soccer certainly requires endurance with players running about 10 miles during a game, says Dr. David Geier, a sports medicine expert and orthopedic surgeon in Charleston, South Carolina. They have strong thighs and calf muscles to jump and change direction quickly.
“You basically have to run whenever needed for 90 minutes. I would venture that many people in society [couldn’t do that],” Geier says.
Interestingly, not all positions are created equally. People believe different positions require different skills, which makes a player more or less attractive. While fans may mourn Spain’s loss to Chile because it means we’ll see less of defender Sergio Ramos, others might think Ramos is "meh" because his position is not as skilled (despite obvious evidence that he is certifiably hot). Researchers discovered that people think forwards in both hockey and soccer are more attractive than defenders.
“Assuming that being a forward requires more athletic skill than being a defender, this provides further support for athleticism being a trait that is preferred,” says Postma.
The bodies of soccer players are also close to western ideals of beauty.
“If you look back at [sculptures] of the Greek gods, [soccer players’] bodies look very similar,” he says. “[They’re] much more in line with our traditional impression of beauty and what an ideal body can look like.”
Why do soccer players’ bodies stand out? Football, basketball, baseball, and hockey players demand such unusual body types, drawing athletes from a smaller population.
“Those guys are enormous compared to soccer players,” Geier says.
There's also a psychological connection. Soccer players don’t wear helmets so it’s much easier to see them reacting dramatically after a great play. The hugging, kissing and emotional swagger also makes them sexier.
Italian soccer team forward and heartthrob, Mario Balotelli, and midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, also frequently celebrate by tearing off their shirts, showing off their elite physiques.
“Being able to see their emotions and reactions on the field, I think [that adds to their attraction],” Geier says. “You get a better sense of who they are.”
Seeing who they are also allows us to see their symmetrical faces. Kendra Schmid, associate professor in biostatics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has studied what makes faces attractive, using the golden ratio, a number believed to lead to the most beautiful shapes or buildings. When it comes to faces, it means the features are appropriately spaced, the eyes, for example, are the width of one eye apart.
In watching the World Cup, she noticed that many players have attractive geometric features; there upper lips seem proportionate, their ear length equals nose length, and the face divides in an equal third. In other words, the formula for hotness.
“I have noticed many of the soccer players do exhibit some of these proportions,” she says.