Editorial

There will be little resemblance between the athletes that take to the arenas in Beijing in this year's Olympic Games and those that graced the auditorium at Olympia in the ancient games - save the desire to win.

The ancient athletes at Olympia ran naked. Today's counterparts perform in high-tech clothing and shoes and are backed by a myriad of training aids. But is this sport?

In ancient times sport was thought to promote arete or human excellence that could be applied to almost any endeavour in life. That purity of ideal however, has been drowned in a sea of technological progress that makes scientists, doctors and engineers the true victors rather than the sportsman.

This is true of all sports and not just the Olympic varieties. Take my own particular favourite, Formula One. Not since the days of Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari and Stirling Moss has the sport been a true test of drivers. On any given Sunday it is the best car that decides who stands on the podium; in truth the plaudits belong to McLaren, Ferrari and BMW.

But it is not just the vehicle sports that are beset with technology; so called individual sports such as tennis, golf and swimming are equally handicapped.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, Head developed a new large-head tennis racquet that was quickly banned by authorities because it gave an unfair advantage. Now, 25 years later, racquet design, materials, and features have become so advanced that the sport has changed beyond all recognition.

Tennis has evolved from a soft and slow-paced sport into a mean monster. Andy Roddick holds the record for the fastest serve to date - a whopping 155mph. This is aided by better racquets, including half-kevlar strings.

Purists (and I am one of them) will bemoan the grip that technology has on modern sport, but our cries are quickly drowned by the true power in modern sport - the manufacturers. With consumers willing to pay exorbitant amounts for winning sportswear and goods it is no surprise that the money continues to be invested in giving athletes that extra millisecond or millimetre.

To my eye it is not the technology itself that is the problem, but the access to technology: the haves and have-nots who compete on an uneven playing field for the right to be crowned Olympic champion.

Motor racing has tried to get around this with one make series, where motor manufacturers compete to supply the car for the series. Once the car is selected it is sold to all teams at an agreed price.

The same could apply to swimming suits, tennis rackets, javelins and poles. Let the manufacturers peddle their wares to the organising bodies, and the best can be selected to be used and worn by all. I realise that would be impractical in the world of marketing, where brands and personalities are worth a fortune. But the sight of all eight Olympic finalists wearing identical Speedos would give the sport back to the athletes, and the people. 

I'm not advocating that athletes bare all as they strive for gold in Beijing, but a return to the day when it was the skill and determination of the athlete that was the true deciding factor is an ideal to cherish.

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them

Close