As the Olympic Games draw near, a leading sports engineer has warned that tight regulation of technology in sport could stifle innovation and make sport irrelevant.
David James, senior lecturer in sports engineering at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Technology is a fantastic catalyst that allows sports to evolve and move into new ground, and that is what keeps them interesting and captivating. As modern society moves on we would be foolish telling sport to stand still as it will quickly become irrelevant.”
His comments came ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, which look set to thrust sports engineering into the spotlight as never before. South African athlete Oscar Pistorius is likely to run races in both competitions even though he has had both his legs amputated. Pistorius, known as “the fastest man on no legs”, has already generated huge amounts of fascination and controversy ahead of the games in London.
Studies have shown that his prosthetic legs can give him an advantage over able-bodied counterparts because his locomotion is more efficient than muscle and bone. This raises questions over whether technology should be used in sport if it gives athletes a competitive advantage, and how best innovation can be regulated.
In cycling, for example, bikes were considerably faster in the 1990s than they are today because regulatory bodies stepped in to try to keep competition between athletes – rather than engineers.
James warned that there are very real dangers of tight regulation. He said: “If you take away the ability to gain an advantage you take away the motivation to innovate. By clamping down you curtail innovation and the development of things that could be really exciting.”
He added: “Throughout the history of sport athletes have always used the best technology at their disposal. Who are we today to say that now we do not want that to happen? We think we have reached the zenith and we live in this incredibly modern technological age. People in 50 years’ time won’t think that: they’ll think why on earth did they put the brakes on sport.”