Brazil’s home advantage claims first victim

The hosts defeated Croatia, who complained that the referee was swayed by the home supporters. Many think playing at home gives an edge, but does it really have such an influence in sport?

It was not quite the dream opening Brazil had hoped for. Just minutes into his team’s first World Cup match against Croatia, Brazilian midfielder Marcelo found the back of the net – not the opposition’s, but his own.

The home crowd was undeterred, and after more goals and some controversial refereeing decisions, Brazil finished as victors.

Experts, economics and many a fan have the hosts down as favourites to lift the world cup trophy next month, with their combination of skilful players and being on home soil. But does being on home turf really confer such an advantage?

History would suggest so. In 12 of the last 19 World Cups, the host team has reached the semi finals, and six times have gone on to win it. The English Premier League last season also reflects this. On average a team won 50% of its home games, but just 32% when playing away.

The same rule seems to apply across sport. At the 2012 London Olympics, team GB won 18 more medals than it did in Beijing 2008. In that year, China picked up 59% more medals than in 2004. In American baseball the home team seems to win two thirds of the time, and British tennis player Andy Murray gave the performance of his career when he won Wimbledon two years ago.

Experts have been trying to discover the key factor behind the home advantage for decades. Some suggest familiarity with their surroundings gives the home team an edge. They wake up in their own beds and follow a regular routine. For the visitors, however, everything is new. For example, football teams visiting Bolivia often struggle to breathe at its national stadium 12,000ft above sea level.

Another advantage of course is the home supporters, but analysts say they affect not so much the players as the referee. As a crowd shouts in anger at a perceived foul, the referee subconsciously follows their opinion. In American basketball, for example, referees are 15% more likely to punish the away team for travelling with the ball. Is a home advantage just a matter of intimidating match officials?

Crying foul

Some people say there is no arguing with the figures and a home team clearly has an advantage in any game. While it is hard to pin this down to any one factor, clearly familiarity with one’s surroundings and a roaring crowd inspiring players with self-confidence play a big role in spurring on the home team.

Yet others say that while there may be some benefits of playing at home, every game is won or lost on the field, not through statistics but a mix of ability, psychology, playing conditions and luck. Brazil are favourites because they are an exceptional team, and to overstate the home advantage would belittle their enormous achievements and talent.

You Decide

  1. Does playing at home really give a team or a sports person an advantage?
  2. ‘Just by thinking there is a home advantage, we create one. It is simply a matter of the boosting effect of belief.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Form groups. You are part of a team that are going to another city to play a match in a sport of your choice. How might you minimise the home team advantage? Come up with five methods. Collect the best answers as a class then make a guide.
  2. Creative writing: Imagine you are competing in your favourite sport and are either playing at home in front of a supportive crowd or away with a crowd supporting your competitor. Write a piece imagining how you might feel.

Some People Say...

“Football without fans is nothing.’Jock Stein”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t watch football!
Even if you are not interested in sport, being aware of how people are often distracted in unfamiliar environments and how this affects performance might help you to avoid the same thing. This applies even in exams: being comfortable in one’s surroundings could make a big difference. The question of home advantage has relevance in lots of aspects of life!
I always perform worse if my family and friends are watching!
It is certainly true that playing in front of home support can actually be bad for a team or person. The English national football team has complained in previous years that expectations in front of a home crowd were so high, it was afraid to fail, and this fear in turn made them fail.

Word Watch

Semi
In 2002 South Korea hosted the World Cup with Japan. Although the underdog, South Korea defied expectations and managed to reach the semi-finals.
Away
An exception to this was Manchester United. While the team finished 7th in the league this year and endured what is widely regarded as a disappointing season, if just away matches counted, the team would have been close to winning the league. Many say the pressure of playing in front of an expectant crowd, coupled with a lack of confidence, affected their home performances.
Routine
One study found that when playing at home, players produce more of the male hormone, testosterone. One theory to explain this might be that playing at home is related to a primeval need to protect one’s territory.
Travelling
This is when a player breaks the rules by moving their feet while holding the ball.

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