There is no doubt that advances in sporting technology have appeared to lead to superior performances. However, if these improvements are not advances in the skills of teams or individuals, have we really gained anything?
There is no comparison between modern cricket bats and those of even a couple of decades ago. Greatly increased power and an enlarged ‘sweet’ spot in the bat mean that almost any modern player can comfortably hit sixes at an average cricket ground, sometimes off a top edge or the bottom of the bat. A game which has always slightly favoured the batsman is now in danger of becoming completely unbalanced, something which is already the case in the shorter versions.
Advances in the manufacture of golf clubs and balls mean that golfers are hitting balls ever increasing distances and making a mockery of many holes at golf courses, which were previously a genuine test of skill.
Tennis is increasingly about power, aided by new, improved rackets and the women’s game in particular has changed. Skilful, quick moving athletes have been replaced by behemoths.
Hockey is played no longer on turf fields but on Astroturf, where the ball can be guaranteed to flow smoothly with nary a ‘bobble’.
In rugby the disappearance of the leather ball and its replacement by balls manufactured from synthetic substances has been revolutionary. Nobody who played with the old ball can forget just how heavy, slippery and awkward to handle it became when wet. Despite commentators feeble excusing of poor handling in wet conditions, the modern ball has almost perfect grip in all conditions.
Are Modern, Individual Sportsmen Better Players?
The above is merely a sample list and most will agree that these advances have taken place but for what purpose and have they given the sport watcher realistic gains? Do we not want performers to dazzle us with their extraordinary skills rather than the wonderful power of their equipment? Are the individual sportsmen better players? I would suggest that the opposite is true.
The one true advance, of a sort, is that as more sport has become fully professional, so players have been able to devote themselves full time to their sport and standards have been uplifted that way.
As far as the technology is concerned, I believe that making the execution of skills easier has meant less skill, less creativity, less flair and less intelligence in sport. The ordinary, fairly ignorant, naïve spectator might be impressed by the display of what are superficially ‘better’ performances but the more discerning sport watcher is being short changed and he or she is not impressed. More and more, real skill is being over-ridden by technology.