From playing football matches behind closed doors to ending entire seasons early, the disruptive effect Covid-19 has had on sport and what it means for its future will be explored in a free online event.

Sports economist Professor James Reade at the University of Reading will present a range of research by himself and others revealing the true impact of the pandemic on the sporting world at the University’s February Public Lecture, titled ‘Sport and Covid – what do we know?’, on Wednesday 10 February at 7pm.

The lecture will cover a number of studies carried out at Reading that investigate how match results and the performances of teams and referees have been affected by playing in empty stadiums, and whether thousands of fans gathering for sporting events might have itself influenced the spread of the virus.

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Professor Reade, Head of the Department of Economics at the University of Reading, said: “When more than 100,000 people have died in the UK alone in less than a year, the importance of sport pales in comparison. Yet a significant portion of the economy depends on sport and leisure, while for many sport has been a comfort at a time of strain on our mental health.

“Covid-19 has undoubtedly changed the face of sport. Matches with no fans are almost starting to feel normal, yet before the pandemic this was extremely uncommon.

“Economists are obsessed with data and I’ll be exploring how this data can reveal the impact of Covid-19 on match results, and whether sport has also had an impact on the pandemic.”

University of Reading economics studies to be discussed during the February Public Lecture include research into whether the pandemic affected attendance at football matches where fans could attend. This includes in Belarus, where football continued during the first wave of the pandemic despite being halted in every other professional league and fans were encouraged to attend as normal.

Infection data following matches attended by fans before the first UK lockdown will also be presented to argue open air sporting events can be linked with increased positive cases in local areas.

The influence of the lack of crowds on refereeing decisions and on home advantage in all sports, will also be explained using data from football games played behind closed doors since March 2020.

Professor Reade will also look ahead to sport after the pandemic, and whether it will suffer long-term negative effects or whether technology and other changes brought about by the pandemic will instead make it better than ever.

Economists at Reading have been applying their skills to football and other sports for a number of years. Predictions by a computer model that uses data to predict the outcomes of football games, and therefore entire seasons, have been published online for the past two seasons, while recent research has looked at what impact VAR has had on the game.

Data was also previously used to evaluate decisions by football clubs to sack their managers, while in cricket, whether temporarily replacing the pre-match coin toss with an uncontested one made county matches more predictable.

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