Sports engineering: An unfair advantage?

In is report we examine the role that engineers are playing in supporting elite sport.

World-class sports engineering research is pouring out of British universities, such as Sheffield Hallam, Loughborough and Southampton, while our high-tech manufacturers are turning these ideas into medal-winning equipment. The International Sports Engineering Association (ISEA) – the world’s leading sports engineering industry body – was founded and has its base in Sheffield.

Sports engineering can be split into two distinct categories – embedded and enabling technology. Embedded technology covers the behind-the-scenes systems that allow coaches and training programmes to analyse movement and fine-tune performance. Enabling technology covers the equipment that athletes use to compete.

The future of sports engineering
The coming decades will experience a technological revolution which will be a change that is likely to multiply further as sports engineers exploit developments in new fields such as nanotechnology, additive layer manufacturing (known as ‘3D printing’) and biomedical engineering.

Sports engineers are undoubtedly pro-technology in sport, but they are also passionate about sport – they do not want to see a technology intervention that undermines the value system of a sport, diminishes the sporting challenge and hinders the growth of the sport.

Engineered in Britain 
UK Sport’s Innovation Programme enlisted British engineering firms to help UK athletes deliver medal-winning performances at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Examples include P2i, an Oxford based company helping Olympic sailors repel water using nanotechnology, McLaren enabling coaches to track wheelchair basketball players using radio signals, and BAE Systems timing cyclists to within a millionth of a second using laser technology originally developed for the battlefield.

Key recommendations

We recommend that:

  1. Engineers are embedded in each individual sport’s regulatory process. Here, they can horizon-scan, looking for new technological developments that can enhance the sport and also help predict the consequences of a technological intervention. These engineers will advise on the use or misuse of a technology based on robust evidence.
  2. Organisations such as UK Sport, as well as government and industry, continue to invest in sports engineering research after the London 2012 Olympics to maintain the UK’s position as a world-leading sports engineering research hub.
  3. Sporting regulators, as well as governments, start preparing policies and positions now to prepare for the advance of Human Enhancement Technologies (HETs) in sports.


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