Football: without an audience, refereeing no longer favors the home team

Unless the Delta variant gets involved and causes new health constraints, fans will be able to take advantage of Messi’s arrival in the stands of the Parc des Princes in mid-September. Between cries, banners and songs, the support of the public plays a decisive role for the home team, which the most ardent supporters will not deny. But with the coronavirus epidemic, many meetings have taken place behind closed doors or with a very small audience.

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So lost the famous home advantage? Yes, on the arbitration side in any case, according to a study conducted by researchers from the department of neurosciences at the University of Salzburg, Austria, published this Thursday, August 19 in the journal Frontiers in Sports. Not that the players lack encouragement, but simply because the referees are more “neutral” when they are not under pressure from the stands.

No more yellow cards for home players

Nearly 1,300 matches from the top European leagues were studied, both in the 2018-2019 season with the public, and in the 2019-2020 season behind closed doors or with a small audience. During this last period, the referees distributed more yellow cards to the home teams than normal. The number of cards for the teams playing away did not change.

Our study is not a critique of arbitration, insisted on Michael Leitner, co-author of the study. Simply, the pressure exerted on the referees during matches is immense (…) And our decisions depend heavily on the environment, the situation and the people present. It should be noted that the number of yellow cards for unsportsmanlike behavior has on the other hand decreased with the absence of an audience, regardless of the team.

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These results are in line with those of a previous German study, published at the end of March in the journal Plos One. By focusing on professional but also amateur meetings, the researchers noticed that the difference in penalties between the home team and the visiting team disappears in the absence of an audience, ” which is in line with previous experiences showing that referees use the reactions of the stands to assess the severity of a fault “.


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