Scientists have confirmed that Team GB athletes competing at the London 2012 Olympics do indeed have a home advantage. But according to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), it’s not just thanks to the exuberant crowd.
Elite athletes who travel through more than five time zones to get to a tournament are 50 per cent more likely to get ill than athletes who are competing on their home surf, reports the study. It’s not specifically due to air travel though, it seems it’s the different germs and food in a foreign country can make athletes ill.
[Related article: The roar of the crowd: A home advantage for team GB?]
“The stresses of travelling seem not to affect the players because when they return home the risk of illness does not differ from normal,” said Prof Martin Schwellnus, who led the study.
"Changes in air pollution, temperature, allergens, humidity, altitude as well as different food, germs and culture could all contribute to illness when arriving in a distant destination."
Researchers tracked the daily health of 259 elite rugby players in 2010 and found that reports of illnesses increased when the players travelled abroad.
[Related article: It’s official – the Olympics make us happy]Before the players travelled internationally, there were 15 reported illnesses in every 1,000 days played.
When the players travelled further than five time zones away, the reports of illnesses increased to 33 reported illnesses in every 1,000 days – an increase of more than double.
When they returned home, the players’ rate of illnesses fell once again to 11 incidents in 1,000 days.
Illnesses reported included respiratory conditions (one third of illnesses reported), followed by gut problems and skin and soft tissue conditions.
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"These findings could be relevant to the Olympics and might contribute to a home advantage” said Prof Schwellnus.
Other factors found to work in the team’s favour include the backing of the crowd and the familiarity of surroundings. So don’t take down your Union Jack flags just yet!