For millions of football fans, we’ve had nothing but repeats to watch to get our fix in recent months. But starting from May 16, elite European football kicks off, courtesy of the German Bundesliga. But there will be a few differences.
Given that there will be a packed schedule of matches to finish before the end of July, teams can make five substitutions rather than the normal three. But the most obvious difference will be that these matches will take place without spectators. Games will be held in empty, cavernous stadiums. These will not be neutral venues, as has been proposed for completing the English Premier League, but research shows empty grounds can effectively mean a removal of “home” advantage.
A few studies show that home fans can influence the outcome of football matches through the pressure they put on the referee. There is evidence, for example, that referees award more injury time when the home team is losing and less when the home team is winning, systematically shortening or lengthening the game to favour the home team, and this is affected by how many fans are present.
Most results on the effects of fans are based on changes in a few hundred or thousand fans from one match to the next. We are among a few sports economists to have studied the effect of playing in closed stadiums.
Historically, most closed doors matches have been imposed on clubs and their fans as a punishment – for violence, racist abuse and corruption. Studying the history of European football since the second world war, we found 191 closed doors matches across the top Italian and French leagues, and in European club competitions. We found none in the English and German top leagues, and only one in Spain’s La Liga. Most of these matches were after 2002.
We have found that the considerable home advantage in football is on average almost entirely wiped out in closed doors matches. Historically, home teams win 46% of the time in matches with fans, but only 36% of the time when there are no fans. The away team wins 26% of the time with fans, and 34% without fans.
These differences are primarily because the home team scores fewer goals when there aren’t any fans. The chart below shows the average differences between matches with fans and without them since 2002, with negative values implying that an outcome was smaller or happened less often in closed doors matches, and vice versa for a positive value.
Reasons for the difference
The data suggests at least two reasons for the loss of home advantage. The first is that away teams get punished differently by the referee. Small changes in the number of fans in the stadium normally have small effects. But as the graph below shows, we estimate that an away team would receive 0.5 fewer yellow cards when playing behind closed doors (the X on the diagram), whereas the effect of reducing a specific stadium’s 25,000 crowd down to a 6,000 one is a mere 0.05 of a card (black line on diagram). Closed door matches have a disproportionate and strong effect on yellow cards.
The second possible reason is that less injury time is awarded in matches played behind closed doors. Though, in the small sample of matches without fans we have studied so far, this difference is generally not statistically significant.
To be clear, we are not accusing professional football referees of being consciously biased. Indeed research has shown that some of the biases they exhibit are subconscious, reflecting the highly pressurised environment that they must make tight calls in. Hence, the introduction of technology like the infamous VAR is an attempt to make the game more fair.
Fans turn up hoping to see their team win, and so, whatever causes it, there is an argument that some amount of home advantage is a good thing. It draws higher crowds and maintains their interest - only the diehards pay to watch their team lose every week.
A different game
Ultimately, our research suggests that professional football over the coming months is likely to be substantially different – not just the echoes of empty stadiums but in measurable outcomes as well. We can expect home teams to win less often. Teams with more home matches than away matches remaining in the current season might not do as well as they otherwise would have done, affecting championships, promotion and relegation.
The evidence also suggests that the current wrangling among the English Premier League’s clubs, about playing their remaining matches at neutral venues, is based on a mistaken notion that home advantage wouldn’t disappear if they play some of their remaining matches in their own empty stadiums.
Carl Singleton, Lecturer in Economics, University of Reading; Dominik Schreyer, Assistant Professor of Sports Economics, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, and James Reade, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Reading
India is spending around $16 million -- half of it in Africa -- on pharmaceuticals, test kits and other medical assistance for some 90 countries battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Asian nation has already sent consignments of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), paracetamol and other drugs to 25 African countries at a total cost including transportation of around 600 million rupees ($7.9 million), according to a foreign ministry source.
"We worked out a list of essential drugs keeping their requests in mind," the official told the Nikkei Asia Review on condition of anonymity. "Transportation is a problem, but we are trying to reach them by the end of May or early June."
"HCQ has a preventive use, although there is no conclusive evidence on its efficacy against coronavirus," a medical officer posted in one of the COVID-19 hospitals in New Delhi told Nikkei.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, the anti-malarial HCQ can be used as a prophylaxis to prevent COVID-19 infection, but not as a treatment. It can be taken by doctors, health care workers and close contacts of COVID-19 cases. U.S President Donald Trump once promoted the drug as a coronavirus "game changer," but lately he has toned it down.
"Paracetamol is used in symptomatic care in COVID-19 cases where we see fever," the medical officer said. He noted that most of the HCQ supplied by India to Africa is going to sub-Saharan countries threatened by malaria. The World Health Organization has warned that malaria deaths could double in that region in 2020 because of disruptionns caused by the pandemic.
Assistance to Africa and Latin America is the second phase of India's COVID-19 health diplomacy initiative, and follows assistance to immediate South Asian neighbors. On Mar. 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed $10 million from an emergency fund to assisting seven fellow members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
India has also sent medical supplies, including masks and other types of personal protective equipment to countries around the Indian Ocean and in Central Asia, and also to six African nations.
The official at the Ministry of External Affairs told Nikkei that it has committed to medical aid worth 600 million rupees for 67 countries. Procurement orders have already been placed with government agencies and state-owned companies, such as Kerala-based HLL Lifecare. The ministry is also providing financial aid to some countries and regional funds.
India is donating 10 million hydroxychloroquine tablets to the 67 countries, with nearly 30% already delivered to 24 of these. Requests for medical assistance from 35 countries, mostly in Africa and West Asia, are being processed.
The country's defense forces have been enlisted to help in the health diplomacy, particularly in the Indian Ocean. In early April, the Indian air force delivered 6.2 tonnes of essential medicines to the Maldives using a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. On May 10, the Indian naval vessel INS Kesari set out for the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Madagascar and the Comoros, with food items and medicines, including traditional Indian remedies.
India is also trying to help with capacity building by offering health care training for COVID-19 management and protocols to 160 countries. It has also offered training in lockdown management to some foreign police forces. The foreign ministry official said concept papers have been invited for upgrading hospitals and vaccine centers.
India has previously helped countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives build hospitals and health care centers. "This is an opportunity for India to prove itself not only as the pharmacy to the world but also a net public health security provider," an diplomat told Nikkei.
With a population of around 1.3 billion, India is facing a major battle of its own fighting COVID-19, but officials believe it can still play a global role. "Our pharma companies have the capacity to not only take care of India's needs but of other countries as well," said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at King's College in London.
India's diplomatic play comes at a crucial juncture in international politics as the U.S. and China argue over the precise origin of the novel coronavirus amid widespread concerns over their respective shortcomings in the crisis.
"Through its health diplomacy, India may be trying to carve out an independent space for itself," Pant told Nikkei. "The world looks set for a new Cold War between the U.S. and China -- COVID-19 may have brought the middle power moment in international politics."
"The post-coronavirus world order could create space for a group of middle powers to provide global leadership," said Gautam Bambawale, a former Indian ambassador to China. He believes Japan, India, France and South Africa are among the countries that could become more influential.
- Nikkei Asia Review
Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s Minister for Public Enterprises, is staking his own credibility and that of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government on the creation of a new airline out of the ashes of the bankrupt national carrier.
Hit by the loss of the country’s last investment-grade rating on its sovereign debt and the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa has said hard choices will need to be made as the country restructures its economy. What the state decides to do with South African Airways could be a litmus test for that resolve.
SAA hasn’t made a profit since 2011 and was surviving on state bailouts and government-guaranteed debt even before the coronavirus forced the grounding of almost all its planes. Both Gordhan and the team of business-rescue experts currently running the airline have suggested a strategic investment partner could help restore the airline, but with carriers worldwide expected to burn through $61 billion in the second quarter alone the list of potential buyers looks thin.
And while South Africa’s National Treasury has found money for SAA in the past, the state’s finances have been severely stretched by efforts to contain Covid-19. The economy is forecast to contract as much as 16% this year and lose as many as 7 million jobs, and Ramaphosa last month announced a R500 billion support package to contain the fallout.
“We’ve got our backs totally against the wall,” Cas Coovadia, chief executive officer of Business Unity South Africa, said in an interview. With regard to Gordhan, “we have the greatest respect for him, we just can’t see, given the facts of the matter, how SAA can be saved,” he said.
SAA’s board placed the airline in a local form of bankruptcy protection, known as business rescue, in December. The appointed administrators, led by Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson, were expected to propose a recovery plan to creditors by the end of February, but requested an extension due to delays to promised funding. A further postponement was granted after the coronavirus reached South Africa in March, and a final plan still hasn’t been presented.
After a request for further government funding was refused last month, the administrators said the best option was an orderly winding down with severance packages offered to all staff. While the proposal was blocked in court after an appeal by labor groups, it remains the business-rescue team’s preferred course of action, a spokeswoman said, declining to comment further.
SAA’s almost 5 000 workers are currently on unpaid leave. They are receiving some compensation from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.
Gordhan, 71, has criticised the administrators, accusing them of wasting money and lacking transparency. His plan is to create a viable airline that isn’t reliant on state funding, while saving as many jobs as it can, the minister told lawmakers on Friday.
“These aren’t individual decisions,” he said. “It’s government decisions the department is implementing.” A spokesman for the Department of Public Enterprises declined to answer further queries.
Obstacles to Gordhan’s plan, which has the backing of unions, include the lack of state funding. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has repeatedly made clear he’s reluctant to put more money into SAA and said he isn’t averse to the airline closing. Attracting an equity partner to invest in a perennially loss-making operation is also complicated by the government’s desire to retain control and a law that limits foreign ownership to 25%.
“There are not too many people at the moment that can invest, certainly not too many foreign airlines that can,” said Linden Birns, managing director of Plane Talking, a Cape Town-based aviation advisory service. “Who is going to put money in if they do not have a decent say on the board, or voting rights?”
Gordhan’s insistence on saving the airline comes at the expense of a reputation built on prudence and pragmatism.
Imprisoned and tortured for his role in the struggle against apartheid, Gordhan boosted South Africa’s revenue collection as head of the tax service and twice served as finance minister. In his last stint, during the rule of former President Jacob Zuma, he opposed attempts to interfere with the tax-collection service and embark on a costly nuclear power program.
“It’s very strange to see Pravin Gordhan coming out as dragging his feet. I didn’t think we would be negotiating about an airline that’s already dead,” said Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst and author of books about South African politics. “I thought logic would be dictated by current circumstances.”
Mukuru has launched Mukuru Groceries – a service that will give South African based customers the ability to send groceries to their families and communities back home in Zimbabwe.
Customers can place orders for a basket of groceries that include 21 staples such as Mealie Meal, cooking oil, sugar, salt, rice, etc. To facilitate ease of use, this service is available via USSD and Whatsapp. For existing customers, Mukuru Groceries will not require them to register for the service, they can simply create orders via USSD and WhatsApp, making it as easy and affordable to send groceries home via Mukuru as it is to send money.
“We have listened carefully to what our customers are asking for, and we have innovated and added to our service offering to make sure that Zimbabwean families receive the resources and support that they so desperately need right now,” says Andy Jury, CEO, Mukuru. “By leveraging our strong partnerships and network in the region, along with our extensive infrastructure, we are able to introduce and quickly implement new services such as Mukuru Groceries. We plan to provide these types of innovations to other African markets in the near future.”
“In addition to price fluctuations for basic goods, people also face the uncertainty of whether certain goods will be available - as many Zimbabwean retailers have struggled to replenish stock,” adds Jury. “By enabling South Africa-based workers to pay for a pre-agreed basket of goods for families in Zimbabwe, we are removing these uncertainties and providing families with peace of mind during this immensely tough period.”