2. Gearing Up for the Game: Equipment as a Shaper of Sport

From: Game Changer

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In con­ temporary sport, equipment is central. ­ Whether it is uniforms , shoes, gloves, bats, balls, or other more complex devices, all athletes play with or use some form of technoscientific gear. Sport governing bodies have a vested interest in managing the use of technoscientific equipment that challenges a sport’s cherished versions of authenticity. But publics, athletes, and equipment manufacturers are equally invested in similar forms of authenticity. ­These investments can make entire sporting cultures disregard the impacts of technoscience to the point that game-­ changing gear does not cause a sport to reevaluate its history and traditions . Technoscience, once seen as making sport safer and more exciting as well as extending the capabilities of athletes, can be construed as devices that undermine the integrity of sport. From the clubs that the United States Golf Association (USGA) deemed illegal ­ because they enabled golf balls to fly too far, to the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s (FIA) ban of driver aids such as traction control in Formula 1 racing, sport governing bodies increasingly have attempted to legislate against existing, new, and emerging technoscience.1 This chapter illustrates the ways in which sporting cultures choose to ignore, dismiss, or legislate away the power of technoscientific equipment central to a sport from its origin. Though ­ there are multiple sporting environments to explore ­these relationships, three illustrative examples—­ athletic shoes, synthetic basketballs, and racing bicycles—­ will tease out 2 Gearing Up for the Game Equipment as a Shaper of Sport Judging Artifacts 68 the intricate ways in which sporting communities strug­ gle to narrate technoscience as instrumental. As we saw in chapter 1, it was clear to most every­ one that new fast suits ­ were decidedly dif­fer­ ent from suits of previous generations and that their use altered the competition like nothing before. However, the examples presented ­ here explore situations in which the transformative impacts of the technoscience ­ were not so clear-­ cut to the sport governing bodies, the athletes, the fans, or ­ those making the equipment. The reconfiguration of existing sporting equipment destabilized how sporting cultures understood their relationship with their given sport’s technoscience. ­ These examples reveal how facets of sporting communities differentially understand, address, and package the ways in which externalized equipment impacts their sport. Specifically, ­ these cases make the argument that all technoscientific equipment influences the outcomes of sporting competitions, no ­ matter how hard sporting cultures strive to maintain narratives in which physical ability trumps technoscientific innovation. It’s Gotta be the Shoes At the beginning of the 1954 World Cup soccer tournament, the Hungarian national team was the undisputed favorite. In the run-up to the tournament, the team won thirty-­two straight games and only seemed to be getting stronger. The Hungarians made this abundantly clear in the previous year by soundly defeating ­ Eng­ land 6-3 at Wembley Stadium. Arguably one of the most significant soccer matches up to that point, the loss broke a fifty-­ two-­ year home-­ winning streak for the En­ glish. Three weeks before the start of the World Cup, the Hungarians faced the En­ glish again. On this occasion, the Hungarians engineered an even more convincing , 7-1, victory to cement their place as the unmatchable favorite. In group play, the Hungarians displayed their dominance and did not come close to losing a game. In the knockout stage, Hungary continued its brilliance , even though the team’s star player, Ferenc Puskás, did not play due to a hairline ankle fracture he acquired in the round play against West Germany.2 The World Cup final was a rematch of a first-­ round game that West Germany lost 8-3. (It should be noted that West Germany fielded a reserve team for the first match.) Puskás returned for the final against West Equipment as a Shaper of Sport 69­ Germany, and early in the game it appeared that it would be another rout. Eight minutes into the match, the West Germans ­ were down two goals. By halftime, the West German team leveled the game at two goals each. Fi­ nally, in the eighty-­ fourth minute of play, Helmut Rahn scored the final goal, enabling the West Germans to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and win the 1954 World Cup. In West Germany, the game became known as “Das Wunder von Bern.” The Miracle of Bern is seen as a transformative event that ushered in a new collective West German identity.3 The story of sport as a force of...