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Technology doping - a new challenge to fair play?

05 July 2012

We are all aware of the need to rid sport of performance-enhancing drugs, but according to a recent report, engineers might also be giving our top sports men and women an unfair advantage over their competitors. Advances in nanotechnology, 3D printing and biomedical engineering are set to bring about a technological revolution in sport over the next few years, with UK sports engineers at its heart, says the IMechE, whose report was published earlier this week (July 4).

Sports Engineering: An Unfair Advantage? examines prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the nervous system, spray-on clothing and personalised running shoes that can be 3D printed minutes before a race, as the sort of technological advances that elite – and well funded - athletes could be taking advantage of within a matter of years.

To prepare for these developments and counter accusations of what the IMechE refers to as ‘technology doping’, the report calls for sporting regulators to work with engineers to predict the consequences that a new technology might have on a sport.

IMechE head of manufacturing and lead report author, Philippa Oldham says engineering has had an enormous and, in her words, ‘under-appreciated’ influence on sport over the past hundred years, with just about every sport, from athletics to cycling, benefiting from the introduction of new materials, techniques and tools that have helped keep them relevant and exciting.

“Over the next few years we are set to see a wave of new technology from the very cutting-edge of engineering enter sport. Yet many sporting regulators still refuse to engage with engineers to find out what effect these advances might have,” she says. “It is vital for sports regulators to work with engineers to make sure these advances are introduced fairly and openly so the sporting world isn’t taken by surprise.”

The full report is available to read here.

More licence to print money
Once again, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to flood the financial bond markets with money as it agreed a further £50bn in 'quantitive easing' (QE) today (July 5). But while the raison d'être behind such a move is to ward off the threat posed by the eurozone crisis to the UK's financial system, some believe that there are other policies that could help boost our economic growth - David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, among them. He believes the additional QE announced by the MPC on Thursday may have only marginal benefits for the real economy.

"While the increase in QE may produce some modest benefits, the policy is not risk-free, and could be counter-productive," he says. "It may limit the decline in inflation in the long term, at a time when we need falling inflation to underpin real incomes and boost demand in the UK economy. QE was the right response in earlier years, but at the present time its benefits for the real economy are at best likely to be marginal."

Mr Kern wants to see the government and Bank of England speedily implementing the lending and liquidity schemes, announced last month at the Mansion House. And to boost lending to businesses, he wants the MPC agreeing to purchase private sector assets, and the government initiating moves towards the creation of a business bank.

Green grows the economy
According to a new report published today (July 5) by the CBI, the UK grew its share of the £3.3 trillion global green market by 2.3 percent in real terms in 2010/11, reaching £122bn and accounting for around 8 percent of GDP. The CBI analysis further suggests that green business may have accounted for over a third of all UK growth in 2011/12. Across every sector and region, green business activity now employs around 940,000 people in the UK, with two thirds of these jobs located outside London and the South East.

But CBI director-general, John Cridland warns against making false choices between 'going green' or 'going for growth, which currently divides opinion among politicians and policy makers. According to Mr Cridland, with the right policies in place, green business will be a major pillar of our future growth.

“Get our energy and climate change policies right, and we can add £20bn extra to our economy and knock £0.8bn off the trade gap, all within the lifetime of this Parliament,” he claims, adding that with something like a third of all our growth accounted for by green business last year, the UK could be a global front-runner in the shift to low-carbon. "In the search for growth, we’re digging for goldmines – and one of them is green."

Read the full report here.

Les Hunt

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