The recent introduction of new technologies to various sporting fields has had a profound effect on these games. Records are being broken across the board as with the support of these tools the physical capacity of an athlete is given an edge that was before impossible. This is not about any kind of chemical though. Those have long been banned in virtually every field of competition. These new technologies are ones that would seem much more mundane.

All sports use some kind of technology. Even something as simple as running has great effort put into clothing and footwear. The shoes and shirt can make an important impact on improving the time of a runner. This improvement in technology is usually a great thing allowing humans to perform better than ever before. However, this raises the specter of the tool, not the human being bringing the winning edge. In the spirit of the competition, how might we better deal with this situation?

To outright ban technology and innovation in a field seems a bit excessive. We shouldn’t be shutting down clever solutions and ideas. Indeed, for most places outside of fair sporting competition, such enhancements are roundly embraced for the ways in which they can make life easier and more interesting. However, on the athletic field, it should be the athlete and not their tools that shine. Even in a car race, we are at least as interested in the driver as the vehicle. So how to put the emphasis back on the person and their physical skills without diminishing advancements in human-centered technology?

The best option will be to create more options and kinds of sporting events. We already divide many sports into various categories depending on things like physical build, sex, or even weight. The next obvious move then is to divide them on technology rules and specific goals. Current competitions would, by and large, find themselves in a middle ground. Some technology continues to be allowed but carefully limited much as we have seen with full-body suits in swimming. Well below that on the technology meter we would have the truest ideals of the original Olympics: people wearing nothing but the most basic of clothing which, moreover, would be virtually identical for all participants. The high end though is where it would be especially interesting. All gates would be opened, and technologies would be free to proliferate. This would create a different kind of competition. One where the strength and skill of an individual would still be important but the emphasis would be on the skill of the engineers and biologists to develop the best ways to improve performance as those improvements would be where the wins would be found.

This then would finally create a situation where people could compete more freely, and innovators could freely engage in their goals without stepping on the rules or spirit of human competition. We would have far fewer scandals and committees constantly trying to work out what lines to arbitrarily draw. This would save time and money and ultimately play sports not just more satisfying for those who enjoy the current paradigm but also create a slew of new opportunities for people to get excited about.

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In part sponsored by The Futurist Foundation, and the Foundation.

Matthew Lehmitz