Sport Technology (2002)

A friend of mine mentioned that the IOC gift store in Lausanne is currently stocking a book of mine from 2002, titled above.

It was the first anthology of this kind and, i think, is still very current. It's great to know that they do too, but as I've not received any royalties on it for about 6 years (I can't even track down the publisher's details anymore!), I think it's about time some of it reached the free market, so here's an introduction essay.

Miah, A. & Eassom, S.B. (2002) Sport Technology: History, Philosophy and Policy. JAI Press.

Editors' Preface Andy Miah and Simon Eassom

This volume began some six years ago through the initiative of Dr. J. Nadine Gelberg, then Editor of the special edition and now Director of Harris Interactive.  At the time, the proposition for a journal edition about sport and technology was particularly challenging since very few authors had written on the subject.  Over the years, the journal has remained in preparation and through discussions with Dr. Gelberg, we issued a revised call for papers in 1999, when many more researchers had developed a profile in the subject.  As well, during that year and 2000, the academic community would see a number of conferences focusing their themes specifically on technology and sport particularly making links with sports engineering.  Today, a theme about technology plays an integral part of any international conference interested in the study of sport from a social science and humanities perspective.

These developments have also been complemented by the emergence of a number of undergraduate pathways in Sport Technology and academic research units around the world.  On various levels, research interested in sport and technology appears to have grown extensively in the last five years.  This is particularly interesting for ethicists and policy makers for the opportunities it can afford to make concrete links with the diverse communities in sports, from administrations and fans, to governing bodies and innovators.  The relevance of ethical and policy deliberations in this area of sport has great importance for the way in which sports innovators go about their work as it can have practical implications for what kinds of technologies are deemed legitimate by governing bodies.

Many of the authors in this edition have a background in philosophy and ethics related specifically to sport.  Indeed, the discipline, of which the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS) has a leading role, has grown significantly since its formal inception in 1972.  The issues presented within this collection of essays is built upon the basis of literature within the philosophy of sport, notably drawing from the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport as a critical body of work in the field.  Whilst philosophy of sport has concerned itself significantly with the technologies of drug-use and doping in the past, the broader aspects of technology have also been relevant to philosophers of sport.

The increased interest in sport technology from various perspectives can be attributed to a variety of reasons that many of the contributing authors of this volume highlight.  Recreational and elite sport have moved increasingly into a commercialised, highly scientised domain, where the basis for progress has been through technological change.  This is evident from the mass production of equipment, to the global representation of sport through new media, to the complex and sophisticated methods of drug use and doping that are now known, to the most highly technological equipment that is used by elite competitors.  Throughout sport, the relevance of technology is clearly apparent and raises very difficult challenges for sports federations. The philosophical and ethical implications presented by these varied technologies has become increasingly in focus over the last years.

Technology in sport presents a uniquely complex range of issues for philosophers, ethicists, and policy makers of technology in a variety of disciplines.  Unlike in a broader social context, where technology has fewer limits and where we might be interested solely in the most efficient means, within sport, there are supposed to be relatively clear barriers to acceptance. Not anything goes in sport.  Rather, there exist sporting moral norms such as fair play, sportspersonship, and an aspiration for equality or good character.  Thus, governing bodies have been interested in protecting an alleged ethical ‘integrity’ of sport from such methods of performance enhancement as drug-taking, new equipment, and the prospect of genetic engineering. The problematising of such a discourse and questioning what grounds are sufficient to make justifiable policy decisions is, however, a rather undeveloped discourse in respect of sport technologies.  Indeed, the work of Dr. Gelberg in this area has been pioneering and has informed a number of works in this volume.

Perhaps most distinctive of the articles is that their approach reflects the developing interest in the area – a process of defining boundaries and deriving ways of understanding technology in sport is reflective of there being very few articles that have, thus far, examined the problem.  Amidst these ideas are very substantive considerations of ethical and philosophical issues relating to new technology in sport which draw upon a number of backgrounds, including computer ethics and bioethics.  The breadth of interests reflected by the authorship is a tribute to the multi-disciplinary nature of the issues.  In keeping with the journal, ideas about sport and technology are informed by a number of traditions within philosophy, including the philosophy of technology.

A particularly strong theme has emerged throughout the edition to try and conceptualise sport technologies.  Frequently, it is recognised that there are obvious technological associations with artifacts, such as equipment.  However, perhaps more interesting for their subtlety is the accepting of techniques and new skills as forms of technology.  This Ellulian conception, places into focus the problematic task of defining technology within sport and limiting its use.  Further blurring of the biological with artifice is evident from the analyses of technologies of the body, such as doping, diet, and genetics.  The degree to which it is possible to identify the human in sport is rendered sensible only if distinctions are made.  Yet, the sense of distinguishing between the human as a biological entity, machine, or cyborg are infinitely confusing.

The papers have been structured to reflect the development of the discourse. They are also mostly of significant proportions to allow a thorough analysis of the issues from the authors’ perspective.  Whilst it had been tempting to include more contributions each of fewer words, the theoretical content of the contributions seemed a crucial and important aspect of the papers that ought not to have been reduced to accord with standard article length pieces.   Initially, an extensive historical context is provided by  Carolyn de la Peña and Gertrud Pfister.  Peña locates the scientisation of physical activity early in the 19th Century, drawing from the U.S. and subsequently internationalised gymnasia of Dudley Allen Sargent and Gustav Zander.  Immediately, links with other contributions are apparent from the way in which Zander’s approach to physical education is portrayed.  His recognition of machinery as assisting but not replacing the human body, is a view that would become muddied during subsequent decades, where technological performances would be seen as products of science rather than of nature.  As well, the many examples of early ergometers as described in Zander’s gymnasia provide early forms of simulation that are quite extraordinary.  They identify an interest to replicate the experience of horse riding outside of the known context; an enterprise that continues in contemporary forms of sport through virtual reality simulators.

In the wake of Sargent and Zander’s mechanisation, Pfister’s history of skiing, begins with an historical context from previous centuries. Pfister represents the development of modern skiing within the guise of mass participation sport and, almost indistinguishably, the technologisation of sport.  The case of skiing makes a particularly interesting contribution since it takes an example that is highly technological in a number of respects. Initially, the role of transportation is identified as being a significant determinate in the skiing experiences.  The days of having to climb a slope first without the use of a ski-lift, radically transformed the activity of skiing from one that was more comparable to mountaineering, to a primarily thrill-seeking activity, that required very little exertion before enjoyment could be gained.  Philosophically, what seems most alarming about this trend is that technology has been augmenting the sport of skiing since its inception with a view to making the experience easier.  This is made explicit by the most recent example of piezoelectric skis, which are designed to make skiing a much less uncomfortable experience for the legs, by reducing vibration.

From one extreme sport to another, Ian Borden’s ‘Material Matters’ brings into focus the social content of sport-technology.  Using the example of skateboarding, Borden argues how it makes possible new ways of experiencing one’s body and one’s body in relationship to artifacts.  Additionally, the way in which skateboarders portray themselves through the imagined realities of digital photography is shown to reflect an interest for the photographer to become part of the represented reality.  Thus, through photography the skateboarder is represented in a way that captures the very qualities of skateboarding that make it unique.

The subsequent section provides a theorising of sport and technology, concluding with Loland’s identifications of the moral content of sport technologies.  Shogan begins with the strong statement of sport being necessarily the result of technological intervention – recognised as being technology in both the broad and narrow sense.  The ordering role of technology is identified throughout the construction of sport, from the size of the pitch or court, to the kinds of strategies that are available to a coach during a play. Whilst constraining sports, this disciplinary effect of technology is also what constitutes them and thus, it is inconceivable that the role of technology could be marginal in sport.

Butryn builds upon the ideas presented by Shogan particularly, to assert a conceptualisation of sport technologies that speaks about them in the context of the body.   The concept of the human athlete as a site of boundary-transgressing is the basis for arguing that it makes nonsense to describe athletes as ever having been natural. Moreover, it is their cyborg status that contributes to their being valued.   Thus, establishing what kinds of cyborg are desirable in sport is argued by Butryn as the proper way of addressing the acceptability of technology in sport.  However, Butryn stresses that the process of deliberation should not be confined to officials or experts in technology.  Rather, an open deliberative process is the only way to ensure that any decision making about technology reflects the aspirations of sports as unique practices.

Building upon the deliberative process introduced by Butryn, Alun Hardman provides a conceptual framework within which such decision making can take place.  Utilising a reflective ethnocentric methodology, Hardman derives a tentative pyramid of constraints (moral, aesthetic, structural) that determine how an evaluation of technology takes place in sports.  In application, Hardman argues that the interplay between the various components which influence change are not conducive to clear moral decisions but that it is important for such analyses to take place to ensure a well-formed perspective about any new innovation.  This is made explicit by using golf as a test case for his theory.

A further attempt at elaborating upon the moral content and conceptualisation of sport technologies and that provides content for the approaches of Hardman and Butryn, is Loland’s ‘Moral View.’  The initial caveat is presented by Loland that the discussion will concern only performance enhancing technologies, a distinction that has been implicit of many of the articles.  Loland argues that any deliberative process about sport technologies must depart from a theory of athletic performance.  After articulating three such theories, Loland concludes where current research is also placed – by addressing the difficult business of delimiting a theory of athletic performance that is the product of an open dialogue and which aspires to delimit a pragmatic universalism about sport.

The final part of the volume can be seen as an attempt to derive a theory of athletic performance through a conceptualising of applied cases.  This is achieved by three distinct sections, which reflect present and

future sport technologies.  Initially, Wendy Varney brings the present into focus. Using gymnastics, Varney identifies how technology in sport can and does embody ideology.   This is made explicit from the way in which the rules of gymnastics consistently identify women as being inferior to the physicality of men.  The chapter also speaks to the difficulties of defining the scope of technology and where limits can be drawn on its analysis, raising the question whether technique also falls within the scope of analysis.

The female athlete is also the subject of Magdalinski and Brooks’ ‘Bride of Frankenstein’.   However, the authors wish to locate these ideas in the controversial constructs of the natural or normal body within sport. It is argued that the basis for accepting or rejecting specific kinds of technological augmentation of the human body derives from a self-justifying assumption about naturalness and its associated acceptability.  This is made explicit within the paper, by identifying drug use as a clear example of unacceptable technology due to its unnatural connotations rather than anything to do with fair play.  The story of Zoe Warwick, the British body-builder who died from taking anabolic steroids is theorised to conclude that sport embodies a way of augmenting the female body that is not socially acceptable for reasons to do with presumed gendered distinctions.  In the case of Warwick, the authors consider that public resentment derived from her having become the unfamiliar and monstrous Other, by transgressing the barriers of sexual difference rather than simply difference. Warwick transgressed limits and her death is seen as a warning against attempts at augmenting nature.  Yet, for this reason, the ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ considers that sport can be a site for challenging neat and tidy assumptions about difference and sexual boundaries.

The subsequent section departs from the issue of gender to examine a concept that is only partially related to the previous chapters.  However, there exists one important link that must be stressed and which also ties it to the theoretical approaches of technology in sport.  Whereas the concepts of natural and normal are problematised by Magdalinski and Brooks, the next section about ‘Virtual Reality’, plays with the concepts of reality and meaning.  In part, it responds to a question posed most recently by the 1999 cinematic production ‘The Matrix,’ through its rich analogising of philosophical ideas.  Early within the script, Morpheus asks his prodigy Neo whether he would be prepared to enter into a different world that would entirely contradict his lived experience to date.  He asks whether he would be prepared to see that all that he has lived and what he believes to be real has been a charade.  In doing so, Morpheus asks Neo, “What is Real?  How do you define the real?”

Questions about reality and its presumed relevance in sporting experience are addressed and implied throughout the two articles on virtual reality.  Initially, Clarke, McBride, and Reece present current scientific research that is endeavouring to replicate sporting environments.  In so doing, the authors engage with ideas that have remained controversial within the philosophy of sport since its inception, regarding definitions of sport.

Subsequently, Miah argues that the known-reality of sporting activities is redundant and is but one further example of a mediated-reality, where the media has been (but need not be) the body within a highly sophisticated, tangible simulation.  With the prospect of virtual reality, Miah asserts that the spectator and athlete are destined for substituting their experiences, where the athlete becomes abstracted from the sporting context and the spectator is increasingly immersed into it.

This attempt to virtualise sport is taken on by Fairweather, where he expands upon the sporting virtues embodied by virtual sport.  Arguing that sport in digital environments can be much more morally credible than the non-virtual ones, it is recommended that sports ethics embraces virtual technologies.  Nevertheless, his thesis is couched in a tacit recognition that there is some (in)tangible quality that is afforded by non-virtual sport: the human.

The final section of the edition provides a dialogue about genetic technologies in sport.  Genetic engineering is a subject gaining increasing interest within sport for its possible applications to enhance performance.  Within the broader bioethical discourse, two very clear perspectives are evident, which are also reflective of the way in which most technologies are addressed by ethicists.  Echoing the categorisation made by Hardman’s paper, there is the traditionalist, or conservative view, perhaps better known as cautionary, which advocates the need for inaction in respect of applying genetic engineering techniques to humans.  Such a position provides concludes that there is an insufficient amount of knowledge to warrant a well-considered action.  Alternatively, there is the so-called radical view, which sees that the new technology provides no ethical concern.  To some extent, these ideas are reflected in the three papers within the section about genetics in sport.

Initially, Tamburrini articulates the kinds of genetic technology that could have implications for sport.  He then proceeds with a deliberately provocative inquiry into what could possibly seen as wrong with genetic engineering from which he refutes conventional anti-doping arguments.  Concluding by carefully recognising that some forms of genetic engineering for sports performances are quite in-keeping with sports ethics, Tamburrini argues that genetic enhancement might even be beneficial for sports. Tamburrini argues that there are no good arguments against using genetics in sport save for those that are idealistic and hypocritical – from a sporting perspective.  What seems most pertinent within the consideration of genetic enhancement in sport (and outside of it) is that the radical position points more towards an inadequacy in basing judgements in terms of the ethical positions that currently exist.  Thus, the radical stance forgets to recognise that it is not sufficient to judge the new technology in terms of the ‘old’ ethics.  Rather, a more articulate analysis of the ethical implications is necessary that must develop ethics within sport and outside, to approach a coherent understanding of new genetics.

Tamburrini’s engagement with bioethics in the ethical analysis of genetic engineering in sport presents an appropriate approach for the subsequent dialogue between Miah and Munthe.  Miah’s article provides a cautionary approach to accepting genetic enhancements in sport, responding to Munthe’s seminal article that investigates the ethical implications of genetic enhancement in sport.  Arguing from a position of virtues that warrant a concern for preserving facets of sport that are at least threatened and at worst negated by utilising genetic enhancement, it is suggested that there are good reasons for considering that genetic enhancement is not beneficial for competitive sports.  In his paper, Miah does not provide an extensive inquiry into these virtues, but directs the reader to the weaknesses of the radical stance in favour of accepting performance enhancing genetics in sport.

In conclusion to the section, and the final paper of the edition, Munthe responds to Miah’s critique of his 2000 paper.  Choosing to focus more upon Miah’s projected integration of bioethics with sport philosophy, Munthe recognises that their perspectives are not dissimilar.  Thus, Munthe proceeds to articulate what might be a possible approach for synergising sport philosophy and bioethics in an attempt to provide a coherent analysis of the ethical implications of genetics for sport.  Not convinced that bioethics can provide any arguments that would oppose the use of genetic enhancement in sport, Munthe concludes by recognising that a dialogue is most certainly worth pursuing from both perspectives.

The conclusion of the edition seems an appropriate way to summarise the work about technology in sport. Moving from the present to the near future, and finally to the long-term future of sport, the issues seem to be consistent throughout.  The need for questioning the ways in which technology is used in sports is evident from each of the articles.   The importance that such dialogues continue seems increasingly pressing as sports become increasingly technologised in various ways.  The kinds of issue that become interesting for sports federations and governing bodies will most likely speak to those technologies that have practical implications.  However, it would be mistaken to assume that the problems that can be posed by conceptual technologies are of little or no use.  Indeed, an imagined future can often be far more use to derive core values about sport, then can social circumstances.  Nevertheless, it is important that a discourse of sport and technology from an ethical and philosophical perspective maintains its links with industry and academia.

In contribution to this effort, the creation of the Forum for the Analysis of Sport Technology, the Executive Council of which a number of the contributors to this edition are a part, was arranged to promote a discourse about ethics and sport technologies.  Its ambitions have been relatively modest to date, though has endeavoured to make links within the sports community.  It has departed from a basis of recognising that all members of the sports community have an interest in the way in which technology develops in sport.  As such, it has aimed to provide an inclusive approach to allowing its members to discuss their feelings about new technological developments in sports.  Its relevance for governing bodies and, indeed, its acceptance, will be some reflection of the degree to which sports authorities have an interest in opening their doors to academic critique and support in regard to sport and technology.

It remains only to thank Professor Carl Mitcham, Dr. J. Nadine Gelberg, and, notably, the contributors for their support during the editing of this volume.  The patience of the authors involved in this work has been greatly appreciated and we hope that all will agree that the volume has been a worthwhile, important, and groundbreaking project for its associated disciplines.  Many thanks to Professor Mitcham for so very many things, in particular, his enthusiasm to see this publication come to fruition and his efforts to sustain it through difficult times.  Our appreciation also goes to Dr. Gelberg, who invited us to take on the editorship of this journal and who has been very encouraging throughout the editing process.




Part One: Historical And Socio-Philosophical Questions Concerning Technology In Sport

Innovations: Past to Present


  • Dudley Allen Sargent and Gustav Zander: Health Machines and the Energized Male Body, by Carolyn Thomas de la Peña. University of California, Davis, USA.
  • From Snow Shoes to Racing Skis: Skiing as an Example of the Connections between Sport, Technology and Society, by Gertrud Pfister, University Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Material Matters:  Technology and the Politics of Differential Space, by Iain Borden, University College London, England.


Theorising Technology in Sport

  • Disciplinary Technologies of Sport Performance, by Debra Shogan, University of Alberta, Canada.
  • Cyborg Horizons: Sport and the Ethics of Self-Technologization, by Ted Butryn, San Jose State University, USA.
  • Evaluating Changing Sport Technology: An Ethnocentric Approach, by Alun Hardman, University of Gloucestershire, England.
  • Sport Technologies – A Moral View, by Sigmund Loland, Norwegian University for Sport and Physical Education, Norway.


Part Two: Applied Philosophy And Ethics

A. Fearing the Other

  • Tumbling into Gendered Territory: Gymnastics and Its Technologies, by Wendy Varney, University of Wollongong, Australia.
  • Bride of Frankenstein: Technology and the Consumption of the Female Athlete, by Tara Magdalinski, & Karen Brooks,  University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.


B. Virtual Realities and Sport

  • All But War is Simulation, by Thomas Clarke, University of Central Florida, Dennis McBride, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Douglas Reece, Science Applications International Corporation.
  • Disembodied Sport: Ethical Issues of Virtual Sport, Electronic Games, and Virtual Leisure, by Ben Fairweather, De Montfort University, England.Immersion and Abstraction In Virtual Sport, by Andy Miah, University of Paisley, Scotland. Andy Miah


C. Genetic Technologies and Sport

  • After doping, what?: The morality of the genetic engineering of athletes, by Claudio Tamburrini, Gotëborg University, Sweden.
  • Genes, Sports, and Ethics: A Response to Munthe (2000), by Andy Miah, University of Paisley, Scotland.
  • Reply to Miah (2001): Prospects and Tensions in the Meeting of Bioethics and the Philosophy of Sport, by Christian Munthe, Gotëborg University, Sweden.