Sport, Recreation and Leisure Technology Issues
Mr Christopher Jones and Dr Dennis Hemphill
School of Human Movement, Recreation and Performance
The sport, recreation and leisure industry is adopting a growing arsenal of technological innovations, some of which will have far-reaching implications and consequences. This period of rapid change should cause us to consider:
a. What will be the impacts of these new and emerging technologies on the way in which we play and consume sport and leisure?
- Elite and commercial sport is always looking for a new performance edge, how is this ongoing process going to be implemented to the benefit of sport and should we manage the adoption of certain technologies? (e.g. medical implants, drugs, genetic modification, cyborg enhancements, mental behaviour “implants”)
The “level playing field” issue takes on a whole new dimension when training regimes and technological artefacts provide skewed performance advantages. “Drugs in sport” becomes an ambiguous issue when near future implanted bio-computers will be able to “manufacture” drug-like substances from the athletes own body and direct them to specific targeted sites in the body for maximum effectiveness.
This paper will examine some of the issues surrounding emerging technologies, sport and leisure and discuss some about the anticipated effects of these technologies on our future sport and leisure practices.
We need first to understand that the human form – including human desire and all its external representations – may be changing radically, and thus may be re-visioned…five hundred years of humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something we must helplessly call posthumanism. (Hassan 1977 in Hayles 1999, p. 247)
Sport is a site where the body seems to be on public display like no other activity. Sport is often associated with physicality, from the demonstration of strength, speed and power, to the exercise of motor skills such as throwing, kicking, running, and catching. Physicality also features prominently in philosophical investigations of sport. It is often referred to as the central component that distinguishes sport from games, or that distinguishes one sport from another. At the same time, sports are rule-governed activities that constrain how this physicality is developed and demonstrated. The introduction of commercialism and high technology to sporting endeavour has succeeded in muddying the waters of what the purpose of sport is and how it should be implemented.
This paper will investigate the technological landscape in regards to sport and leisure; beginning with a brief review of the state of play in sport philosophy, moving through to technology considerations, issues surrounding virtual environments and concluding with some thoughts and speculations.
The Sport Philosophy discipline examines ontological and axiological issues with which to explore the notion of what is sport. Sport has been conceptualised in terms of play (Caillois 1961; Esposito 1979; Huizinga 1995; Schmitz 1979; Schroeder 1996), games (Meier 1989, 1995; Morgan 1979; Osterhoudt 1979; Suits 1967, 1973, 1979), physicality (Moe 2005; Osterhoudt 1996; Paddick 1975), family resemblance (McBride 1979), and motor actions (Kretchmar 1992; Osterhoudt 1995; Tamboer 1992, 1995). The Suits/Meier formulation is considered the standard account in the field:
…all sports are indeed games. That is, a game may also correctly be termed a sport if it possesses the additional characteristics of requiring physical skill or prowess to be demonstrated by the participants in the pursuit of its goal. (Meier 1995, pp. 31-2)
The concept of ‘physicality’ has also been linked to bodily excellence (Algozin 1988; Weiss 1969) and to intrinsic goods in sport (Osterhoudt 1996; Paddick 1975). However, Lebed (ND) suggests that the main character of sport is dependent upon social and technological development, and therefore physicality, as some inherent property, need not be a central consideration.
At this point in time, much discussion in the sport philosophy discipline is grounded on the notion of physicality; an ambiguous term in the emerging technological paradigm. So can we conceive of sport in a manner that is not defined by physical skill or prowess? Where is the physical line drawn? How gross does the motor skill need to be to qualify as physical?
Modern sports could be considered to be somewhat independent of physical skill due to the immense technology that is put towards sport for the purposes of eliminating the potential for variation and ‘unplanned’ sports performance. The apparent aim of sports science and technology is to reduce variation in athlete performance and implement a consistent and repeatable maximised output at each instantiation of the activity. Thus essentially removing the variable human physical factors and replacing them with predictable bio-mechanised ones.
Essentially, ‘physical’ is becoming less relevant as there is an increasing move towards technological base-lining in sports practice, which is marginalising physical differences between athletes – the increase in technical coaching, computer aided performance feedback and technological tools designed to improve performance is rapidly creating a cadre of clone-like athletes with almost identical optimal physical and mental performance characteristics. This homogenisation of physicality can be considered to be effectively removing the physical as a testable characteristic of sport performance.
In this high-tech age, we are surrounded by technologies that restore our functioning or enhance our lives. These range from prosthetic devices, implanted technologies (hearing and visual implants, pacemakers, artificial joints, insulin delivery systems and so on), to non-genetic body modifications such a cosmetic surgery and sex changes. Sport is not immune to the impact of these (and other) technologies. While surgical reconstruction, muscle fibre typing and computer modelling, psychological counselling, and nutritional supplementation are currently acceptable technological innovations, there is resistance to, and outright rejection of, other technologies.
Recuperative or therapeutic technologies are generally accepted as they bring the athlete back to ‘normal’, whilst those enhancement technologies are rejected as taking the athlete beyond normal. This begs the questions, what is normal? And why is beyond normal taboo? Baylis and Robert (2004, pp. 17-8) indicate that technologies progress through a sequence from condemnation to ambivalence to advocacy and finally widespread acceptance. Conceivably, there is a relationship between normal (acceptable) and (the rate of) technological change.
These emergent technological improvements are advancing beyond our general ability to implement timely laws/rules governing their effects. Additionally, there is only a minimal framework in place for dealing with the philosophical and practical impacts of the adoption of these new technologies. Paralleling the increasing techno-physical aspect of sport is the continuing social trend to adopt and transfer technology at faster rates than ever before. The movement towards a technologically based on-line society is rapidly replacing the traditional physical or bodily skills with knowledge skills. Gross motor skills are being supplanted by fine and micro-fine motor skills. This trend might ultimately result in the elimination of the traditional notion of the physical or embodiment.
The enhancement technologies in question are slowly eliminating physical performance differences between athletes and sport competitors. Technologies that enable performance will, if a mathematical limit type view is taken, ultimately result in all humans being equally capable and on a similar baseline physical performance level. Consider this speculative scenario; all sprinters in the 100m complete the task in less than five seconds. All competitors cross the finish line at exactly the same time. This example is set, say, thirty years in the future and all of our competitors have bio-mechanical enhanced bodies, uploaded with anticipatory software that enables their take off to synchronised perfectly with the starter’s gun. The physicality dimension of the event is removed as all competitors are equally capable.
But is this scenario so far fetched?
Futurist Ray Kurzweil (2000; 2001; 2005; 2006) anticipates that nanotechnology will be fully realised by 2020-2030. Meanwhile, Brian Corrigan, former head of the Australian Sports Drug Agency, believes athletes are already experimenting with genetic alteration and, Gary Wadler, member of the World Anti Doping Agency, believes genetic enhancement is a definite possibility by the 2012 London Olympic Games (Dobie 2005).
Performance enhancing drugs and genetic engineering are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) (2003) and numerous national sporting bodies. The banning of these technologies has been justified with claims that they are unnatural, unhealthy, and unsporting, that they are a crutch that undermines human effort and self-reliance and a threat to sport and society. The current WADA sponsored ‘war on drugs’, based largely on a strict compliance model (education, surveillance, penalties), tends to foreclose discussion of alternative conceptions of regulating performance enhancement technologies.
The drug control debate in sport, however, provides some telling views about the nature of sport and persons (such as what it is for, and how we should engage with it?). Simon’s view of sport as a “competition between persons” (author’s emphasis, 1985, p. 11) makes the use of drugs appear as a prop that diminishes personal effort and responsibility. Brown’s (1980) view of humanity/personhood as self-determination, however, suggests that restricting the voluntary and informed choice of adult athletes when it comes to drug use is ethically questionable. Kayser, Mauron and Miah (2005) also believe that anti doping policies are ineffective, do not encourage fair play and are too costly.
Meanwhile, O’Gorman(2006) suggests that mechanical and non-drug based technologies skew the level playing field notion as much as any pharmacological or genetic enhancement technology is anticipated to do. Somewhat agreeing with Miah (2004) and his general position that enhancement technologies should be permitted on ethical grounds as the restriction argument is invalid.
McCarvill (2005) reviews some of the latest practical advances in athletics prostheses; anticipating further technological developments that will hopefully allow amputee and other disabled athletes to complete without disadvantage against able bodied athletes.
Whilst Ljungqvist and Genel (2005) highlight the issues involved in developing policies towards transgendered athletes and promoting a level playing field; foreshadowing similar difficulties with the development of genetic (and other) enhancement technologies.
Concepts of gender and disability, previously accepted as having a ‘natural’, biological status, are now thought of as more social constructions, and thus malleable. Technology is breaking down the binary categories and increasingly obscuring the boundaries between disabled and able, human and machine; thus challenging our understanding of humanness/embodiment and performance enhancement in sport.
There is an aspiration for our athletes to be superhuman, just as there is an interest from many athletes to go beyond what is known as the limit of human performance. It is this tension between humanness and seeking to be superhuman that reflects the conflict in values about sport and that reveals the challenge to negotiate and requestion sporting values. (Miah 2004, p. 66)
The large scale economic and political interests served by gold medal and record breaking performances suggests that sport is fast becoming the competition between national systems and corporations with their respective stables of athletic performers. It appears that sport is moving away from it being the test of the individual athlete’s intrinsic embodied physical resources, to focus on the coordinated resources of a sport performance collective, of which the embodied athlete is only single part of the greater whole. Is modern commercial sport converting the athlete to a mechanistic performance tool? A mortal engine. (Hoberman 1992).
Loland (2002, p. 69) suggests that athletic performance is based upon random genetic inheritance and environmental exposure. Loland indicates that athletes are moral agents and therefore the only moral position to adopt is to accept both genetic and environmental influences as valid upon the fairness of competition. To take any other position is to reduce the athlete to a machine of either nature or environment. Which of course, if you step outside of academia and look at the wider sporting world, is generally exactly what is occurring. Media based corporate sporting spectacle seems to be an finely balanced system of superlative performance with ‘clean’ drug free imagery. Conjuring up images of the athlete without a leaky body. (Longhurst 2003/2001)
Hoberman states part of the performance enhancement problem relatively succinctly; “The most important characteristic of modern high-performance sport is that it is a global monoculture whose values derive in large measure from the sphere of technology.” (Hoberman, 1988, p.324 in Tamboer 1992, p. 35). Meier follows this train of thought by declaring that in modern sport, the human body is an obstacle to be overcome and reduced to the status of manipulable object (Meier, 1988 in Tamboer 1992, p. 35) – a technological marvel to facilitate sporting activity. If this is indeed the case, then there is a moral imperative to implement genetic enhancement technologies in athletes to eliminate the random and irrelevant genetic background of the athlete.
We have training regimes which optimise performance, we have technologies enabling coaches to give instant feedback on performance, to analyse and report on minute errors in delivery or performance. Technologies such as nanotechnology, gene therapy, genetic modification; somatic (non-inherited genetic modification) and germ line (inheritable genetic modification) and cyborg implants: anything from sub-cutaneous drug delivery systems, pacemakers and artificial organs through to limb replacements and perceptual enhancements; artificial eyes or retinas, are on the cusp of development and will have an enormous effect on everyday life and sport performance in particular. These technologies should cause us to think about what will and should be permitted performance enhancement; and what direction we want sport to take in the future. Coupled, with the anticipated development of these advanced technologies, the conditions are ripe for effectively encouraging elite athletes to turn towards these alternative means to gain a performance edge over the competition.
Baylis and Robert (2004), who oppose wide-spread genetic modification, state that genetic enhancement technologies are inevitable, and there is little point in attempting to prohibit their introduction; rather effort should be focussed upon managing their implementation. Browsing the bleeding edge technology information sources – ‘blogs and tech reports – reveals daily notifications of the development of bacterial nanowire batteries, nanocars, carbon nanotubes, brain implanted microchips enabling the paraplegic to control computers with thought patterns (brainwave readers), artificial limbs which detect nerve impulses at the site of amputation and replicate the motion of a hand or foot, artificial retina implants to correct defective sight, gene-therapy drugs designed to switch certain proteins or genes on and off (anti-cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s medicines), experiments in genetically modified foodstuff and organisms. The list is growing longer with each passing day, and refinements are being constantly made to improve the process.
Much of the genetic enhancement argument revolve around the innate physical limitations the individuals are born with, and that genetic and other advanced technologies are a method for removing or overcoming innate physical disadvantages, however those disadvantages are conceived. Recent advances in genetic modification (GM) research potentially impact greatly upon sport. For example, germ-line GM’d athletes might be labelled ‘cheats’; even though they would not have control over their genetic heritage, and thus limited moral responsibility.
Looking at the literature; Cooke (2003) argues that the implementation of genetic enhancement technologies is a proper moral goal when viewed from a Rawlsian and Senian perspective. Cooke invokes Sen’s Capacity Theory to support her contention. Miah (2004) examines gene therapy and transfer technologies and their implication for understanding of personhood (i.e., human choice, responsibility), authenticity and sport.
Savulescu (2001) argues that with the advent of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) parents involved in the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) programme “should select embryos or fetuses [sic] which are most likely to have the best life, based upon available genetic information, including information about non-disease genes” (2001, p. 413). Savulescu describes this principle as “Procreative Beneficence”’ a principle that promotes the genetic enhancement agenda.
Alternatively Birch (2005) argues that Savulescu’s position introduces problems with issues such as aggregate versus individual justice. Procreative Beneficence raises the issue of genetic determinism. Birch analyses the issue of ethical behaviour based upon genetic deterministic responsibility – can the genetically modified be ethically responsible for their actions? Birch concludes that the issue of genetic choice or enhancement will have far reaching consequences on axiological issues. de Melo-Martin (2004) reply’s to Savulescu on slightly different grounds, arguing that there will be problems of access to the technology for poorer individuals and further social justice issues relating to informed and coerced consent.
The bioethics literature is rich in argument over whether we should or should not genetically modify, however, this argument is immaterial in some respects as Baylis and Roberts (2004) are quite correct – the technology is inevitable and we should spend our time devising management plans and impact solutions rather than arguing over a foregone conclusion.
We live in a culture of simulation. Our games, our economic and political systems, and the ways architects design buildings, chemists envisage molecules, and surgeons perform operations all use simulation technology. In 10 years the degree to which simulations are embedded in every area of life will have increased exponentially.” (Turkle 2004)
What will this mean to sport if we maintain the current definition of sport being a game which primarily tests physical skill or prowess? And maintain the “War on Doping’ and “Zero Tolerance” strict compliance stance? Will sport become virtual? Anachronistic? Or non-existent; made extinct by a new technological and disembodied paradigm? Or will sport successfully re-invent itself in line with the emerging technological advances?
Immersive, persistent virtual environments are changing the way in which we interact with the world and each other. These technologies are causing us to ask the question – what is real? Virtual world environments such as Second Life ™, World of Warcraft ™ and EverQuest ™ are blurring the boundaries between the concrete natural world and the virtual. These technologies are having an impact on leisure, and how we view ourselves as (disembodied) entities within the constructed environment.
Schmitz (1979) and Schroeder (1996) speak to the concept of the playspace and indicate that play occurs in a sacred or mystical space, apart from the ordinary world. In terms of technological development, this leads us to ponder the virtual environment and its effects upon the sporting ‘playspace’. Technologies such as virtual reality, the internet, online communities, ‘blogs, highly visual and graphically rich computer games and virtual worlds have the ability to change the playing field in a radical manner.
We are living in a postmodern culture; therefore our world view and definitions must change to incorporate the simulated, fictional and fantastic (Rojek 1995). A virtual online environment is all of the above; simulated, fictional and fantastic. Therefore our understanding of sport and leisure must be extended (postmodernised, or perhaps simulated) to incorporate the new culture into the old modernistic definition of sport.
If constructed environments are considered authentic and add value and meaning to a persons life, then the activities within the constructed environments should be considered authentic (from a perspective of phenomenologically being-in-the-world). Therefore we need to re-asses and redefine the meaning of sport in light of the fact that these virtual environments, or magic kingdoms (Rojek 1995) of the web are authentic in their roles as places (objects) to explore and experience, and to host certain (game/sport) activities.
But–theoretically at least-immersive media begin to collapse the distinction between real and imaginary, as they completely engage the participant in realistic simulation. (Schroeder 1996, p. 144)
The blurring of the lines between real and the imagined, or perhaps a better distinction is between the natural and the constructed digital environment, as imagination is increasingly not required. Simulation and virtual environments present concrete visual, spatial and aural representations of their ‘world’ and therefore less and less is imagination required to interact in a meaningful way or on a meaningful level with these artificial environments.
As the technology increases the artificial environments are taking on more aspects of the concrete world. Persistent worlds with concrete locations that grow and develop in relation to the growth of artificial culture within the environment. The magic lands are creating and nurturing their own magic cultures.
The playspaces are becoming more concrete and ‘realistic’ as the real or natural world bleeds into the constructed worlds. The constructed worlds take on the appearance, and properties of phenomena, and objects within their own right. The constructed worlds are becoming persistent and interactive. The constructed worlds are becoming alternative real worlds, not playspaces. They are growing and developing, and therefore the actions, and cultures within them should be viewed from the point of view of neo-culture or proto-cultures. These cultures, environments and objects are becoming part of the real and subsumed into the real. Therefore the constructed environments and constructed activities should be brought into our ‘real’ world understanding.
…leisure requires radical reinterpretation for having become disassociated from its conventional constituents. Indeed, it remains unclear whether cyberspatial leisure can, in fact, be conceptualised as leisure at all. …”leisure in cyberspace challenges conventional conceptions of spatiality, time, geography and sexuality necessitating new modes of understanding (Aitchinson, 1999).”
(Miah 2000, pp. 211-2)
To conclude; new technologies are reducing the need for raw physical prowess to be a defining factor of sport. Perhaps another way to go is to view sports as ultimately being absorbed back into games. There once was an important divergence between sport and games, however as technology increases the boundaries between the two collapses back towards a common set, that all sports are games and technology is eliminating the distinction between them.
The current philosophical definition of sport is being exposed to significant stress by the introduction of advancing technologies. What is physical? This is becoming an important question in terms of disembodied distributed environments, nanotechnology and genetic technologies. Therefore, it is time to re-examine the notion of physicality, in reference to the new and emerging technologies which have an ability to impact upon the manner in which we participate in sport and recreation.
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Christopher Jones firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Dennis Hemphill email@example.com