The chat at Sports Technology Awards’ Towers yesterday took an interesting turn; we were discussing the timeframe we should impose on innovative tech. In reviewing the relative merits of offering people 12, 18 or 24+ months, someone made the point that just because something is new, doesn’t mean it is actually any better than what went before.
We’ve all seen the ‘new and improved’ claims splashed all over a variety of household goods but start to apply the same process to the sports sector and it does make you think.
The most immediately obvious example of this is F1; over past seasons a variety of teams have been subject to technical rules not to make the cars they are designing better per se but to ‘improve’ viewing of races.
Another example is in football. Anyone who played 10 years ago will remember what it was like to hoof a ball and you knew when you had connected with the sweet spot. The flight of the ball stayed true to contact and only the those who possessed immense ability would be able to curl the ball with aplomb. Today’s balls have been designed with a larger sweet spot and made from lighter synthetic materials, enabling greater degree of spin and additional flight which will ultimately end up with more goals per game. Undoubtedly this is innovative, is it better, well presumably yes it is. There may be a few moans and groans from the men between the sticks, however football is about entertaining spectators and as in F1, an enhanced viewing experience comes when there are high scoring matches.
A third example can be found in skiing. The evolution of skis is such that it has made a difficult sport much more accessible to a far greater number of people - as anyone who has queued for a lift during half term or spring break can testify. However these changes have created a leisure industry valued at $3.4bn in the US alone.
It is always easy to knock custodians of elite sport but, ultimately, they usually are exceptionally passionate about the sports in their care. They want their sport to be as accessible to as many people as possible but here’s the rub, only true purists value excellence to the exclusion of competition, most of us prefer an unpredictable battle. For any doubters, think of the way Steve ‘Interesting’ Davies was decried for being ‘boring’ when he was actually virtually unbeatable during the 1980s – and there are countless other examples which fans of different sports can cite.
With this in mind are Governing bodies which see a way to artificially level the playing field for the wider good of the sport wrong to do so? Surely challenging sport to be more innovative to ensure its longevity is innovative in itself?