Will familiarity breed content for London 2012?Reported by Metro.co.uk on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 (on June 20, 2012)
*The Olympics are almost here and the pressure on British athletes to deliver glory on home soil is increasing. But how big a deciding factor is home advantage, really, when it comes to sport? Metro talks to the experts.*
Does familiarity breed content?
We are going to be celebrating 27 gold medal-winning performances from British athletes at this summer’s Olympic Games.
That is the bold prediction from researchers at Sheffield Hallam University, who believe home advantage is worth an extra ten gold medals to Team GB.
Were this summer’s Games abroad, the British team would be expected to pick up 17 golds, according to their research. But, as we all know, this year’s extravaganza is in the UK, and many think it will give our competitors that added boost to bring home medals.
Heptathlete Jessica Ennis is one of those Great Britain gold medal hopes. She is backing the Home Advantage campaign from British Airways, which put a giant painting of her in a field under the Heathrow Airport flight path this week, with the message ‘Welcome to our turf’.
The BA campaign, which launched a TV advert this week, has also been endorsed by former American sprinter Michael Johnson, who won gold in the 200m and 400m on home soil in Atlanta in 1996. But is home advantage a genuine factor in deciding who gets on the podium? Prof Simon Shibli, head of the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, is certain it can have an influence.
‘It’s real and I think it provides a quantifiable benefit,’ he told Metro. His team’s study, published this year, predicted a 56-medal haul for Great Britain in London, nine more than in Beijing four years ago.
His prediction model, based on previous results and the factor of home advantage, forecasts 27 golds for Team GB. Prof Shibli laughed off suggestions that could be overly optimistic.
‘We forecast that China would win 46 gold medals in Beijing,’ he recalled. ‘When the paper was published, people were almost incredulous, saying “This guy’s mad, China will never win 46 gold medals”. They won 51. Which kind of proves I wasn’t mad enough.’
Looking at the performance of the host nation in the Olympics since 1988, he said home advantage is worth 3.2 per cent more gold medals than usual.
‘Although people talk about home advantage being a generic thing, it’s different things in different sports,’ explained Prof Shibli. ‘There are some sports where the home advantage can probably only be explained by the encouragement that crowds and the buzz around the event gives them.
‘In subjectively scored events like diving, boxing, judo and taekwondo, or subjectively officiated events like football, water polo, handball and volleyball, the home advantage is the effect of the crowd on the judges or the officials, whereby they’re more inclined to make, not intentionally but subliminally, decisions that favour the home athletes.’
A prime example was US boxer Roy Jones Jr’s inexplicable defeat to South Korea’s Park Si-Hun in Soeul in 1988.
Jones landed 86 punches to Park’s 32. The Korean took two standing eight counts and was twice warned by the referee.
Yet three of the five judges gave the bout, and gold, to the home boxer.
However, Prof Shibli doesn’t foresee opposing athletes being robbed of gold in London because they are up against Britons.
‘I wouldn’t say we would definitely get dodgy decisions, but what might happen is that home athletes might get the benefit of the doubt.
‘If there’s any rub of the green that might go Team GB’s way, that might be the fraction of a per cent that makes a little bit of a difference.’
The projected medal table from Sheffield Hallam University isn’t the only optimistic one out there as far as Team GB is concerned – a list from statistics experts Infostrada Sports predicts 63 medals for the hosts, although only 17 are gold.
Ellis Cashmore, professor of media, culture and sport at Staffordshire University, said home advantage tends to work only in some sports.
For instance, referees are influenced by crowd noise at football matches, whether they are aware of it or not.
But there will be no referees to influence in the Olympic Stadium, no matter how loud the crowd shouts.
‘Home advantage might work well in the football tournament but in track and field I don’t think it’s going to make a scrap of difference and could eat into the confidence of some people,’ said Prof Cashmore.
‘It is sometimes possible for an individual athlete to really get pumped up and get at that level of thinking no power on Earth could stop them.
‘But at the Olympics, when you’ve got a crowded stadium and you know that the crowd is expecting everything of you, it could well work in reverse.’
British 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, who was raised less than a mile from the stadium in Stratford, has a different view.
She said last month that relying on home advantage to achieve victory was a ‘false sense of security’. ‘A track is a track,’ she insisted.
Tweet your views to us @MetroUK using the #HomeAdvantage hashtag’.
VIDEO: British Airways Home Advantage
Links: Full news story
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