From medical treatment to global communications, the past couple of decades have seen technology take over, and its impact is expected to increase to a much greater level as people constantly look to enhance their productivity and get more out of their day.
Since the introduction of the first photo finish at the 1948 London Summer Olympics, technology has also had an incredible impact on how sports are played and how athletes use new innovations to continuously improve their performance and set new records. Pakistani sport has also been affected by and benefitted tremendously from the introduction of new technologies in international sport.
Pakistani sports fans got their first taste of the impact of biomechanics in sports after the controversy surrounding the bowling actions of Shoaib Akhtar and Sri Lankan superstar Muttiah Muralitharan, as they seemingly ‘chucked’ the ball. In order to avoid future controversies and clear the actions of the bowlers, the ICC turned to Biomechanics.
So what is biomechanics? It is a technology that utilises the laws of mechanics to provide a greater understanding of how the bodies of athletes react in different situations through the use of mathematical modelling and computer simulations. The availability of this detailed information about body movements and their impact on the game, which would be missed by the naked eye, help provide definitive guidelines with regards to the legitimacy of a bowler’s action.
To solve the Akhtar- Muralitharan dilemma, the ICC referred the bowlers to specialist centres that used motion analysis high-resolution cameras to measure the angle at which the bowlers were moving their arms during their bowling action. And with the availability of biomechanics, it allowed the ICC to draw a line with regards to the constant controversy surrounding these bowlers, allowing the sport to move forward once again.
Biomechanics has other implications on sports in general as more athletes turn to technology to gain that extra bit of speed that can mean the difference between first and second place – winning and losing. The study of body movements through the use of biomechanical technology also allows coaches to help iron-out flaws in the way an athlete runs or throws, to not only increase their sporting prowess, but also reduce the risk of injuries that could potentially end careers.
Fast bowlers have often suffered from severe pressure on their joints as the increasingly hectic touring schedules cause more wear and tear than ever before, specifically on the knees and spine. Pakistan has long suffered the effects of these physical-stress related injuries as fast bowlers like Mohammed Zahid had to end their careers after suffering stress fractures in the back due to the enormous force absorbed by his body due to bowling actions. Shoaib Akhtar and Imran Khan also suffered because of similar injuries and lost significant playing time while recovering from stress fractures.
The use of biomechanics has not been limited to just a few sports, for years now the world’s top golfers have utilised this technology to iron out any kinks in their golf swing to help gain extra yards in their drives. This, coupled with the incredible leap in the use of technology and new materials in designing sports equipment, has helped top golfers tame the most challenging courses and break records that have stood for decades.
Swimmers and runners have used this technology, combined with other conventional medical technologies to help provide in-depth data about the functioning of their bodies during an event, and how they can improve on their performance based on data gathered on blood pressure, heart rates, breathing habits and physical movements during tests as well as in actual professional events. Coaches are now using a mix of these technologies, along with advice from doctors, physicians and technologists, to help increase the endurance of individual athletes, by concentrating on physical training programs that allow athletes to build up their resistance to the stress associated with each sport.
The end of instinct and adrenaline rush…
Purists have criticised the ever-increasing use of technology in sports, citing fears that the essence of the sport and the nuances of on-field decisions, including umpiring decisions, are an essential part of what makes the sport attractive. They fear that the excessive use of technology is making sports too clinical, and therefore less interesting for fans; but the fact remains that with time, sporting events have evolved and individual athletes have adapted by using more technology to ensure that they can break previously held notions about the limitations of the human body.
The relationship between sports and technology is evolving on a daily basis, from the use of Hawk-Eye to eradicate incorrect decisions in cricket, to the introduction of goal-line technology that will help referees in football decide whether or not a ball had crossed the goal line.
These decisions have a far-reaching impact on athletes and on teams in international sports, where a wrongfully disallowed goal can cost a football club millions of dollars in potential revenues.
Or levelling the playing field?
The increasing use of technology in sports is unavoidable. Using technology could help smaller nations compete with the sporting giants of the world by helping train athletes in the best way possible from a young age. Technology use will help level the playing field as more and more countries adopt new training and assessment techniques to identify talent that can compete on the international stage, and hone their skills specifically according to the needs of their chosen sports.
In Pakistan, the use of technology in sports remains beyond the reach of most young talented individuals; the Pakistan Cricket Board is the only sports board to have used biomechanics in training so far. This trend should hopefully change in the coming years, as the increasing potential for earning large sums of money from professional sports forces team owners and athletes to start utilising these technologies and help provide better opportunities for local athletes on the international stage.