Technological doping refers to the issue of using "performance enhancing" sports equipment (i.e. sports equipment, footwear, clothing, prosthetics) to gain a competitive advantage in a sporting event. Its definition varies according to the individual sport, but it is officially recognized as a concern by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The lack of a universal description also creates a gray zone of what is considered technological doping and whether advancements in sports technology are just that – technological improvements – or can ultimately threaten the integrity of the sport.
Within the world of sports, there are many standards set for sports equipment. Whether it's soccer ball weight, baseball bat material, or tennis racquet length, these standards prevent unfair advantages between competitors.
When an athlete is able to use a brand-new technology to perform better, especially when personal records are repeatedly broken, the question of technological doping comes into play. Currently, swimwear, sports equipment, apparel and footwear are under scrutiny by the sports authorities and cited as being examples of technology doping.
Swimwear: The LZR racer swimsuit manufactured by Speedo is one of the most well-known cases of technology doping. It was introduced in the 2008 Olympics where 23 out of 25 world records were smashed by swimmers wearing this suit. The LZR swimsuit compresses the body, traps air for buoyancy, and allows better oxygen flow to muscles, but it enhances swimmer performance so well that it was banned by the governing body, FINA, after the Olympics.
Sports Equipment: One of the biggest technological doping scandals happened in 2016, when a Belgian pro cyclo-cross rider, Femke Van den Driessche was accused of having a hidden motor in the frame of her bike. This was not the first time that "mechanical doping", or ‘technological fraud’ as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) defines it, was suspected. Back in 2010, the Swiss pro-cyclist, Fabian Cancellara (winner of the Tour de France that year) was accused of planting a motor in his bike after he overtook another cyclist on a climb during the Tour of Flanders. He denied the allegations and no charges were brought against him. Then again in 2014, video footage caught of a bicycle wheel spinning for a length of time after it had crashed during a race in Spain appeared to suggest that the bicycle was being propelled by a hidden motor. The fact that the rider picked up the same bike even after a new one was brought to him intensified the rumour. In contrast to other examples of technological doping, "mechanical doping" is unique in the fact that it carries an intention to cheat and to hide that cheating.
Apparel: Ionized sports apparel is the latest technology to come under scrutiny by many in the sports realm. Ionx, is a brand of clothing created by the New Zealand firm, Canterbury. They state that Ionx apparel "delivers ionized energy to the body through a negatively charged electromagnetic field present in the fabric, which stimulates blood flow, increases efficiency and power and speeds up recovery time". It is claimed that athletes using this technology will see an increase in speed, stamina and strength by 2.7%. Although many critics argue that this is a form of technological doping, a 2.7% improvement is low enough to not be considered a threat by the governing sports authorities. At present, ionized sports apparel is still legal to use in competitive sports.
Footwear: Although the technology for Nike Vaporfly shoe line has been around since 2016, the Nike Vaporfly 4% (there are many other iterations) became an international sensation in 2019 when Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour marathon barrier, finishing the 26.2 mile (ca. 42 km) race in 1:59:40. Many other male and female competitive runners have broken their personal records since the introduction of this shoe technology. There have been numerous people who have taken issue with the height of the foam mid soles and the carbon fiber plate in these shoes – saying that it acts as spring – and that both technologies provide an unfair advantage to runners who do not have these shoes. However, as of 2020 these shoes have not been banned, and will be able to be worn by competitive runners in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (although there is a freeze on any other new shoe technology before the 2020 Olympics).