The technological advancements of the past two decades have impacted all facets of our day-to-day lives. Throughout the realms of camera upgrades, fingerprint and facial ID, sport has not been immune to the impact of these progressions.
However only a casual glance at the headlines of last years’ Premier League Football will clarify that not all advancements in technology are gratefully received within sport. The impact of VAR on professional football had the intention of impacting the quality of officiating however a study showed only 26% of fans supported its’ implementation due to the impact it had on other aspects.
The interpretation and implementation of various forms of technology can impact the governance, officiating or performance of sporting endeavours. Them extent to which training programmes and methods have been impacted by advancement in sport science understandings has been clear for all to see over the same time span but there continues to be an ongoing debate lurking just beneath the surface; is it all too much? Is sport better off left alone?
Technology in Sport
Sport has always been about marginal gains. At the very highest level, the smallest of margins can be the difference between success and failure. Technology has looked to attack these marginal gains in the performance aspect of sport with the equipment used by athletes and the results have been astonishing.
In elite swimming, races are decided by 1 100th of a second. Technological advancements in the swim suits that athletes wear to reduce drag in the water have caused considerable controversy in recent times as Speedo produced a suit worn for 93 world records and all but one of the world records set at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
On the track, the recent Tokyo Olympic Games further outlined to controversial topic of technological advancements within sport with Nike’s production of a new running shoe, containing a rigid plate and unique foam to act as a propulsion mechanism for athletes. Arguably the stand-out performance of the Olympic Games came in the form of Norway’s Karsten Warholm‘s astonishing 400m hurdle race. In both the mens’ and women’s 400m finals, the runners-up each beat the previous world records. Combined with these ‘super-shoes’ the track in Tokyo featured a unique design that incorporated rubber granules and small pockets of air, believed by the designer to provide athletes with a 1-2% performance advantage.
In team sports, video analysis, GPS data, video review, heart rate monitors and performance clothing have all contributed to increased performance year-on-year. But just how much of this increase in performance is down to the athletes?
Athletes or Technology?
An important consideration in the athlete vs technology debate is that the two of them are not independent and therefore separate entities. The advancement of technology has allowed athletes to train smarter and harder whilst maximising every last ounce of the athletic prowess. Cricket bats have become lighter with bigger middles. Football boots have become lighter with greater functionality. Playing surfaces, such as those in hockey have become more efficient
Objective measures such as sprint times and distance covered in matches offer an insight into some of the athletic development of athletes through the years that has helped to hone the training methods used to help them reach their peak. Physical measurements and the understanding of biomechanical movement patterns relevant to sports has provided unique ‘natural selection’ within elite sport whereby the pre-determined physical characteristics of an athlete needed to succeed in a sport can be identified and subsequently trained.
One of the most famous and inspirational sporting successes in recent years was Eliud Kipchoge’s sub 2-hour marathon. Whilst the feat in itself is an astonishing achievement, it was immediately drawn into controversy by the utilisation of a brand new Nike shoe, along with a pre-planned race day based on the optimum weather conditions needed to achieve the time.
Has technology gone too far?
There are a multitude of objective measurements that can outline the positive impact that technology has had in sport. As with all new developments and progressions, certain aspects have received significant scrutiny that have called into question whether the continued progressions in technology actually make sport better.
Adaptions of technology are undoubtedly necessary, with the Premier League adapting their interpretation of the use of VAR this season. The banning of the Speedo swim suit that contributed to such a drastic reduction in times through the 2008 Olympic Games helped to return races to more realistic splits.
Despite this, a happy medium can definitely be found. Player reviews in Cricket and Tennis utilising the HawkEye and ball tracing technology allow for accurate technology but the influence of human error and decision making, both key notions within sport, in their application.
The utilisation of technology within sport has been a swift process in recent times. The constant search for betterment has produced a steady stream of technical advancements that are renewed on an almost yearly basis. As a result, the increased understanding of the human body and the demands on its application to a given sport has led to a series of developments such as instant replay, timing systems and sensor tools to determine success.
The development of equipment has helped to aid performance and minimise injury, both pivotal in an athlete’s pursuit of success. Protective helmets in cricket and hockey along with the padding in those same sports along with concussion protocols throughout sport provide a reassuring reminder of the value of progression within sport.
When it is stripped back to its’ bare essentials, sport remains a competitive battle with a uniquely human perspective. A plethora of factors can influence a result and, this pivotal concept must be maintained for the betterment of all sport. A loss of emotion or passion, which has often been a primary catalyst in the critique of technology within sport, must be defended against at all costs. The progression of equipment must be monitored to help advance the sport as an entity but not diminish the achievements of those athletes that preceded.
Athletes are proven to be faster, stronger and fitter than they have been in the past and there can be no doubt that technology within sport has been at the centre of this progression.