A group of researchers from the University of Portsmouth, in England, conducted a study focused on how crowds influence the behavior of judges.
Alan Nevill, Tom Webb and Alastair Pearson worked on the study, titled “No crowds, no home-field advantage in soccer during the COVID-19 season – are crowds capable of manipulating anything but the best behavior of referees?
What the researchers did was compare the number of home and away red and yellow cards during the 2020-21 season, in which there was no public access to the stadiums, with those of the ten previous seasons, between 2010 and 2020.
The results of the investigation on the influence of fans on referees
According to experts, there was no home advantage in the red and yellow cards awarded in the four English divisions during the 2020-21 season, the COVID season. In contrast, the judges handed out more cards to visiting players when fan pressure kicked in.
“Our study provides overwhelming evidence that crowds can manipulate professional referees to award significantly more red and yellow cards to visiting players (compared to home players), an effect that disappears when crowds are absent.”, noted Alan Nevill, who is a research professor at the University of Wolverhampton.
For the researchers, it is key that referees of all categories, and not just those of the Premier League, have psychological support so as not to be influenced by the fans.
“The growth of the Premier League has led to increased investment in professional referees and the potential for a wider gap to emerge between these referees and referees operating within the professional game in the lower leagues.”, considered Tom Webb, senior professor of sports management at the University of Portsmouth.