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Technology doping is a new term that has been becoming more popular recently in sports. Technology doping is the practice of gaining a competitive advantage using sports equipment. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) considers prohibiting technologies if they are "performance-enhancing" or "being against the spirit of the sport". In 2006, WADA initiated a consultation on technology doping which is now officially recognised as a threat, whilst the decision to allow or ban a new technology, specifically relating to sports equipment, is the responsibility of each sport’s own governing body.
Since most sports require equipment of some sort, it can be tricky to determine what is technology doping and what is not. The governing authorities of different sports usually make judgment calls about the technological advances in their sport’s equipment. Technological advancements are often allowed unless the governing authorities feel they threaten the integrity of the sport. A report released immediately before the 2012 Summer Olympics quotes an extensive public survey that shows that people fear that sports engineering could: overshadow the triumph of human spirit and effort, make certain sports easier, create unfairness so the "best athletes" might not win, and ensure that rich athletes and countries have an advantage over the poor ones.
LZR racer swimsuit
The LZR Racer has been one of the most discussed technologies accused of being technology doping. The LZR Racer bodysuit by Speedo is a high-performance swimsuit. It is made with a material that was designed to mimic shark skin. The suit allows for better oxygen flow to the muscles, holds the body in a more hydrodynamic position, and traps air which adds buoyancy.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this suit was worn by many swimmers. In fact, some swimmers wore two or more of these suits at once to increase buoyancy. In total, 23 out of the 25 swimming world records broken at the Beijing Olympics were broken by swimmers wearing this suit.
Some people thought these suits might be so technologically advanced that using them in competition was essentially technology doping. After the Beijing Olympics and subsequent swimming events, at which many world records were broken by swimmers wearing the LZR suit, FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) banned all body-length swimsuits. Men's suits could only maximally cover from the waist to the knee. Women's suits could only cover from shoulder to knee. They also stipulated that the fabric used to make the suits must be a “textile” and the suit could not have fastening devices, such as zippers. These new rules took effect in January 2010.
A New Zealand firm has created “IonX shirts” which are made of a material that claims to contain a negatively charged electromagnetic field. It further claims that the shirt helps increase blood flow, which in turn helps deliver more oxygen to the muscles and remove lactic acid from the muscles more quickly. For the moment, this technology is still legal. The World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that since there is no scientific publication that confirms the material actually changes the body’s ion charges or enhances performance and also the material does not contain prohibited substances, this technology is not banned as of now.
Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, an Australian science agency, created a garment that can monitor movement and give feedback. For example, a basketball player can wear the material in the form of a sleeve. Then sensors in the material send information to a computer when the player takes shots and responds with audible tones. The material essentially gives the athlete real-time feedback on their movements. Athletes can learn patterns of tones that indicate successful or unsuccessful movements and use these to make improvements. The material helps correct the athlete’s movement and helps the athlete gain muscle memory so they can continue to perform well once the material is taken away.
In cycling, mechanical doping is the use of a secret motor to propel the bicycle. It is banned by the Union Cycliste Internationale. One of the first allegations of mechanical doping was in the 2010 Tour of Flanders. The first confirmed use of mechanical doping was at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships.
Amputees can compete in the Paralympic Games using artificial limbs. There has been significant debate on whether the artificial limbs confer an advantage over able-bodied athletes and whether athletes using them can participate in the Olympic Games. There has also been debate on the effect of the length of the artificial limbs in the Paralympic Games.
Many sports set standards for equipment, to prevent unfair advantages between competitors. This often involves the types of materials the equipment is made from or dimensions/sizes. For example, tennis racquets must not exceed the maximum length and width limits. Soccer balls must not exceed weight limits. Golf clubs must fit shape regulations.
- "Sports Engineering: An Unfair Advantage?". Institution of Mechanical Engineers. p. 15. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Hsu, Jeremy. "Are Humans or Technology Breaking Olympic Records?". InnovationNewsDail. Retrieved 23 August 2012.