By Anissa Alifandi,  Festival Communications Intern at the British Science Association


Although I maybe clueless about sport, I am well aware of its importance in society and extensive coverage in the media. We’ve all got some connection to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games to share and the return of Match of the Day has started to dominate Saturday nights up and down the country.

If you’re a fan of House,  you might remember one particular episode that followed the collapse and hospitalisation of a top cyclist , highlighting the controversies surrounding sport are very much at the forefront of public interest. Airing eight years prior to Armstrong’s confession to of doping throughout his career, it reminded us of the ugly side to an industry that champions hard work, strength and integrity.

Recent revelations to The Sunday Times uncovered damning insights into blood tests of around 800 athletes. A whistleblower from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) released over 12000 sets of results throwing suspicion on hundreds of professionals. Despite Mo Farah coming under scrutiny just weeks ago in the wake of allegations against his coach Mark Daly, it has been confirmed that he is not a cause for concern and that only one UK athlete has results deemed abnormal. Farrah has also expressed that he wishes his own results to be published to remove all doubt overshadowing his achievements.

Rewinding to London 2012, one of the greatest legacies was the catastrophic surge in exposure for UK athletes. Greg Rutherford, Adam Gemili and Jessica Ennis have all become regulars in the media and the Women’s Sports Trust named Gold Medal boxer Nicola Adams their Role Model of the Year. Their status in elite sport is now reflected in popular culture as we continue to follow their fights, races and tournaments, supporting them as they dominate their field and represent their home country.

It is therefore a great shame that the accomplishments of admired sportspeople are being questioned by an alarming amount of suspicious, even “extreme” blood values. The aim of ‘blood doping’ is to increase the amount of oxygen-carrying molecules, (haemoglobin molecules) and proportion of young red blood cells so the blood can carry more oxygen, and allow your muscles to work more efficiently.

The actual process of doping has become much more sophisticated in recent times. Experts reveal that micro-dosing with hormones, such as erythropoietin, EPO, which stimulates red blood cell production and increases the haemoglobin concentration, producing similar benefits to high volume blood transfusion- however this technique is hard to identify.

In spite of this recent barrage of bad press, technology as a whole in sport has allowed for significant progression in all areas of the field. From prosthetics developed for handicapped athletes to drag-resistant swim suits, the records being broken now must thank the engineers and designers behind the products. At present the “good” technology driven by sound research and development maybe being overshadowed by the cheating of coaches and medical teams, but the majority of professionals aren’t actually exploiting science to cheat the system.  

Bryce Dyer, senior lecturer in product design at Bournemouth University, will be at this year’s British Science Festival discussing the importance of the technology in elite sport. He will consider the role of technology versus raw talent and commitment, weighing up each component to present his view on the thin line between first and second place.

Come and air your concerns about the state of sport at the professional level and how you feel the industry has come to be perceived in light of the recent media storm.

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