The impact of the empty stands depends on three factors: the athlete, the discipline and the nationality
The Tokyo Olympic Games will be held without an audience due to the increase in cases of covid-19 in the Japanese capital. Will this situation affect the result of the different sports competitions? It depends on three factors: the athlete, the type of sport and the athlete’s nationality.
1.- The athlete. The absence of fans could generate in the athletes the same sensations as a training session or a friendly match. This often involves a decrease in motivation, greater distraction and inappropriate activation. If this happens, not only will the options for success of the athletes be reduced but the possible appearance of injuries will increase by not competing with the necessary tension. Depending on how each athlete manages these sensations, their performance will be one or the other. In Tokyo 2020 the work of the sports psychologist will be very necessary, having to enhance the intrinsic motivation of the athlete (based on their own desire to improve) compared to extrinsic motivation (which comes from the extra contribution provided by the fans).
2.- The sports modality. Although many sports will be harmed by the absence of public, especially in terms of entertainment, some will not be influenced. There are even disciplines that will benefit. What sports is this situation good for? There are minority disciplines, such as the Olympic shooting, that need absolute silence so that the competitors do not lose concentration. In the events held throughout the season, this requirement is met. However, in some Games there is always more public and media than in other competitions, which makes it difficult to concentrate on these specific types of sports. Some shooters have already expressed that, although they do not like the situation, competing behind closed doors will improve the marks.
In which sports will the absence of an audience not significantly influence the results? In those where, although silence is not needed to practice them correctly, the stands are usually empty as they are a minority and the athletes are used to not seeing people around. Also in sports in which the athlete is so evaded from what happens around him that competing behind closed doors does not affect them. Clear examples are boxing, fencing or even tennis, a sport with many followers but where elite athletes for many years were accumulating points in tournaments where it was played with practically no public. For obvious reasons in other Olympic sports, such as some water sports (sailing, surfing, rowing, canoeing …), the decision of the Japanese government does not influence either.
3.- Nationality. Various studies show that in some team sports playing at home is a clear advantage. Beyond the motivation of seeing family, friends and compatriots in the stands, there are studies that reflect how the presence of the public has a “positive” influence on refereeing decisions. However, when matches are played behind closed doors, not only does the percentage of matches won by the home team decrease by more than ten points, but there are more refereeing decisions in favor of the visiting team.
For this reason, it is very likely that Japanese athletes will not obtain the same number of medals in their Games as if they competed in the presence of their public.
To the factors that traditionally influence the results of athletes (quality, previous preparation, injuries, luck.) In the capital of Japan will be added the absence of public, which will condition the results depending on the personality of the athletes, the modality sports or even the nationality of the competitors. That is why on the day of the official opening an unexpected guest will parade at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium: sports psychology, the most important scientific discipline in these strange Games.