UCL Technology Innovation Forum Event

The Future of Sport: Business, Technologies and Public Engagement

UCL was pleased to host "The Future of Sport” on Thursday 18th June 2009.

The focus of the event was on UCL’s contribution and involvement in sports and drew a broad audience representing academia, business and investors.

As the countdown to the London Olympics reaches the three year mark, the overwhelming concern amongst the sports industry, and the public alike, is the legacy the Games will leave.

The morning session which took the form of a private roundtable debate with sports industry innovators, marketers and scientists all being represented.

The topic on discussion was how does modern technology give athletes a competitive advantage and the ethical issues surrounding this. Attendees explored the ‘win at all costs’ mentality currently apparent throughout the majority of sports and does this, coupled with the ever increasing cost of technology to consumers, lessen interest levels (and in some cases financially prohibit participation) of some sports. The result of this alienation being fewer members of the public taking part in sports on a regular basis and the knock on effects this has on the health of the nation.

The afternoon session comprised two plenary sessions which primarily focussed on the 2012 Olympics. Panellists included architects involved in the Games planning, as well as environmentalists and a member of the London Development Agency, the body responsible for the vast regeneration of the East End and the subsequent role of making sure all the investment is utilized for the benefit of the next generation.

As all Olympic hosts are now expected to leave a lasting legacy, a means of evaluating this legacy was deemed crucial by the panellists. It was noted that this has consistently been promised but never fully delivered. However, if London can be successful in this aspect, then it could stand tall above recent host cities.

The ‘soft’ legacy in question centres on the effect the Games will have on the level of public participation in sport. Brands, sponsors, governmental ministers and health care professionals will all have a huge role in defining London’s Olympic legacy – something that is likely to affect Londoners’ lives for the remainder of the century.

The discussion explored how modern technology gives athletes a competitive advantage and the ethical issues surrounding this. Attendees pondered the ‘win at all costs’ mentality currently apparent throughout the majority of sports and does this, coupled with the ever increasing cost of technology to consumers, lessen interest levels (and in some cases financially prohibit participation) of some sports. The result of this alienation being fewer members of the public taking part in sports on a regular basis and the knock on effects this has on the health of the nation.

In an industry increasing geared towards entertaining the public – and therefore reaping the financial rewards - the role of research and science has an ever more important involvement in, for example, keeping both human and animal athletes healthy and preventing injuries, in order that they can perform in front of sell out crowds.

Consensus among the group was that the success of the London Olympics would be judged on the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ legacy left behind – that is to say not only the buildings themselves but also the resulting increase in sports participation.

All involved agreed that the contribution of university research to sport is hugely underestimated and can be viewed as an untapped resource. Sport acts as a means of accelerating innovation and universities such as UCL are in a great position to take advantage of this.

The Future of Sport Forum was hosted by UCL Advances, a UCL department specifically created to foster innovations of benefit to society and the economy.