From the way golf putters are held to the material swimsuits are made of, these controversial innovations have been outlawed in competitive sport.
Technology enhances our everyday lives, but its use in sport has been questioned for giving some competitors an unfair advantage that others can’t afford to match.
Here are five controversial sporting innovations that have been deemed inequitable over the years.
1. Carbon-graphite cricket bats
Cricket bats with a six milimetre strip of carbon graphite attached to the back of the blade came under intense public scrutiny in 2005 when wielded by then-captain of the Australian national team Ricky Ponting.
Kookaburra Sport, the manufacturer of the “Kahuna” bat, had worked with Ponting since he was a junior cricketer, making him the obvious choice to show off the brand’s new weapon.
According to former Kookaburra Managing Director Rob Elliot, the carbon-graphite coating simply reinforced the bat’s back, increasing its longevity.
But sceptics weren’t so sure, and claimed the strip gave users an unfair advantage — or could damage a ball post-strike.
All bets were off once the sport’s ruling body asked the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) to investigate the offending strip.
When the MCC found the reinforced bat contravened Law 6 of the game’s rules, which say that the bat must be composed entirely of wood and that any protective covering should not damage the ball, Kookaburra agreed to withdraw it from international cricket in 2006.
Ponting continued to use the bat in the 2006 test series in South Africa, claiming it “didn’t make a shred of difference”.
Comparing his 2005-06 batting average to the following year’s (85.82 in Tests and 47.71 in One Day Internationals vs 74.33 in Tests and 48.33 in One Day Internationals), it appears Ponting was right.
2. Anchored golf putters
Anchored putting is a little different to other banned sporting paraphernalia, given it’s technically a swinging technique enabled by certain putters.
The practice, popularised in the early 1980s when long putters were more widely used, entails bracing the club against the player’s chest or chin. When “belly” putters are used, anchoring occurs against the player’s mid-section.
Several golfing pros favoured the practice, including Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Webb Simpson and Bradley Keegan.
However, despite the technique’s use in most major golf championships, the United States Golf Alliance and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews decided to call time on anchored putting in 2013.
Claiming the technique made golfing easier, the USGA stated that: “Intentionally securing one end of the club in place against the body is designed to help to avoid or alleviate some of the inherent obstacles to a successful stroke made with a free swing.”
Players received a three-year grace period to grow into the new rule, which came into effect in 2016. Another technique, “Arm anchoring”, has since grown in its place, which entails players locking the grip of their putters against their forearms.
However, some professional golfers, including Billy Horschel, are also calling for this practice to be banned.
“I’ll give the belly putter back and take away the arm lock,” he said in 2021.
3. Nike Vaporfly runners
In 2019, Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to complete a 42 km race in under two hours.
The 2016 and 2020 Olympic marathon champion achieved this feat while wearing a pair of then-unreleased “Alphafly” shoes, the newest iteration of Nike’s Vaporfly Next%.
There were already rumblings about Vaporfly’s competitive advantage, with a 2017 study finding the shoes are four per cent more efficient than other marathon-running varieties.
But a distinctive bulge in the Alphafly’s forefoot led to increased concern that the shoe approached a form of performance enhancement. As a result, World Athletics banned shoes with soles thicker than 40 mm, or those that contain more than one plate.
To further level the playing field for competitors, World Athletics also announced an end to the use of prototypes through its rule that all shoes must be available in retail markets four months prior to competitive use.
With a heel stack height of 40 mm and a 32 mm forefoot stack height, however, runners at all competitive levels could still use the Vaporfly Next%.
4. Swimming super suits
Swimming super suits were all the rage in the ‘00s. By the end of the decade, they were banned from competitive swimming altogether.
Back in 2004, Speedo and NASA collaborated on a swimsuit made of polyurethane material. Replicating a shark’s dermal tentacles, the suits were designed to reduce drag and increase speed.
Through this partnership, Speedo’s LZR Racer was developed and released in 2008. That year, 55 world records were broken, including 25 at the Beijing Olympics.
When other manufacturers such as Jaked and Arena saw these results, they began producing neoprene designs similar to wetsuits in 2009. With the help of these new innovations, 67 world records were smashed, leading to an overall ban of supersuits by World Aquatics in 2010. Now, only swimsuits made with textile material can be used.
Despite this ban, concerns have been raised about the impact of super suits on competitive swimming, with many world records set during that era yet to be broken more than a decade later.
5. American football’s “sticky gloves”
In the 1970s, NFL players including wide receivers and defensive backs started using an adhesive called Stickum to ensure they had a better grip on the ball.
The product was banned in 1981, however, because of the almighty mess it left on the players, referees and balls.
But almost three decades later, sticky gloves were back in the game after a Canadian wide-receiver named Jeff Beraznik manufactured a product with grippy polymer, purported to be 20% stickier than a human hand.
Thanks to the gloves, one-hand catches became the norm, even at college and high-school levels of football.
The sticky technology also reached Australia, favoured among AFL players for the superior grip it provides. However, after the AFL commissioned a study by RMIT on sticky gloves in 2013, six types were subsequently banned.
”The AFL [was] concerned with the potential competitive grip advantage gained by players who wear gloves against opponents who do not,” said the AFL’s report.