Business Unusual

The next generation of Olympians may need batteries

The version of the Olympics that we will watch later this year in Rio started in 1896 with 14 nations and 243 athletes competing in nine sports.

This year 206 nations (regions with National Olympic Committees) and over 10 000 athletes will compete in 28 sports (golf and rugby have been added).

The games are followed but the Paralympics - launched in 1988 - having grown out of the event for British veterans of World War II in 1948. It has also shown incredible growth and impressive achievements, such that there have been at least a dozen paralympians who have competed in the Olympics including Natalie du Toit and Oscar Pistorius.

A new event held in October - the month after the paralympics - might add a new twist to human achievement. The Cybathlon offers the opportunity for those with physical disabilities the chance to compete with power assisted robotics and even features a mind-controlled race.

The various categories use either powered prosthetics, powered exoskeletons, highly mobile and adaptive wheelchairs and a race run using only thought.

The competitors are teams made up of the athlete and the support team that would work on the mechanics and the programming that allows the athlete to navigate an obstacle course to test the limits of the machines and their operators.

While it will not raise questions just yet about athletes competing in the other games using powered devices, it seems equally unlikely that it will not open the debate about what will remain acceptable sporting aids.

Modern bicycles, racquets and, in fact, any sporting equipment has become highly specialised. A modern archery bow looks nothing like a traditional bow.

So if mechanical and material advances are acceptable, how long before electronic enhancements become acceptable? A pacing device for runners would improve times without affecting physical ability; would that be acceptable? Would training using electronic aids be okay provided it was not used for actual competition even though the advantage is likely to remain?

If that is not enough of a challenge to the status quo consider the potential inclusion of games that are not physical in nature but no less a sporting pursuit with a significant following.

E-Sports as they are officially known are growing rapidly. In some countries, such as South Korea, they rival traditional sports like soccer. Should they be considered as part of humanity's greatest sporting gathering?

The sports are now professional with prize money rising to millions of dollars. Can you make a significant case to say motor racing is a sport, but computer motor racing can’t be?

And the money will follow the fans. In 2013, over a million logged on to watch a League of Legends final in a packed stadium of those watching live - over a million people watching people play a computer game!

There is a growing league in South Africa too.

New tech means new games and the latest might be Drone Racing. Flying drones in stadiums with the first race completed in February in Miami.


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