Can technology help athletes win? While the importance of good equipment is no longer in question, particularly at a professional level, questions remain about gadgets and gizmos promising (supposedly) advanced technology.
The latest case in point is the curious patch worn by the tennis player Novak Djokovic at the French Open. During his victory over Marton Fucsovics in the second round of the French Open on May 31, tennis champion Novak Djokovic was seen with a mysterious patch stuck to his chest.
At the post-match press conference, after confessing his childhood admiration for the superhero Iron Man, the Serbian sportsman spoke about this curious patch.
“You know, my team delivers an incredibly efficient nanotechnology to help me deliver my best on the court, so that’s the biggest secret of my career. If it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said.
That's all it took for this miraculous object to go viral. On Twitter, Internet users are already calling it the “Iron Man patch”. But its real name is the Taopatch, described by its manufacturer, Tao Technologies, as an aid to better coordination, smoother movements and economizing precious resources during competitions and training sessions.
The manufacturer claims that this daily-wear patch can “also help improve the symmetry of the pelvis and lower limbs, muscle activation (through the use of more fibers of which the muscle is composed), balance (even after 4 hours of activity) concentration and post-race recovery”.
A placebo effect?
To buy it, you’ll need to spend between €280 (RM981) and €3,000 (RM14,728). Nevertheless, this technology might not be so miraculous. Some doctors even claim that it is ineffective.
This is the case of Baptiste Meunier, a sports physician and member of the NoFakeMed collective. “This patch is useless. According to the seller, it sends photons into our cells, helping them to communicate better. But human cells don’t work with photons, because photons are light,” he told France Info.
As for the claimed effects on player performance, the doctor adds: “The placebo effect is very, very powerful. It can improve performance by 25 to 30%. But this patch goes no further than the placebo effect. Scientifically, it’s nonsense. It makes no sense. It’s just superstition.”
At present, no scientific study or research can attest to the effectiveness of this patch. The Taopatch brand, like many others, is not the first to use sports personalities to sell a product with no proven effect to the unwitting public.
This could be of particular concern given the young age of many sports fans.
The case of Power Balance
Novak Djokovic is known as a sportsman with a penchant for alternative methods. In the 2010s, he adopted a gluten-free diet – he even wrote a book on the subject entitled Serve To Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan For Physical And Mental Excellence.
He follows a very strict diet and has a disciplined approach to food. He has also expressed anti-vax views. In 2022, he spoke of a “magic potion” when asked about a mysterious drink prepared by his staff at the Wimbledon and Paris Masters tournaments.
But beyond the Djokovic case, other sportspeople have been known to adopt high-tech gizmos supposedly helping them boost their performance.
In the 2000s, several sports stars – including the football player Cristiano Ronaldo and the basketball players Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant – were spotted wearing mysterious wristbands.
Called Power Balance, this magnetic energy bracelet claimed to improve sporting ability and performance. Priced at around €40 (RM196), the Power Balance was supposed to improve the wearer’s power, flexibility and balance, thanks to the presence of a hologram.
The wristband was heavily promoted beyond the world of sports, with actresses such as Lindsay Lohan seen wearing it on their wrists. The product sold millions of units worldwide.
In 2011, however, the brand suffered a major setback following a collective complaint from consumers alleging misleading advertising. The American courts ordered Power Balance to pay US$57mil (RM260.91mil) in compensation to customers duped by the product. – AFP Relaxnews