The legitimization of performance-enhancing equipment in sports A case study on skinsuit implementation in Olympic sports
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Introduction It is commonly accepted that technological innovations in sports have dramatically improved athletic abilities and are crucial for maximizing performance for both individuals and organizations. Although innovations have improved performance in a number of sports, they also play a controversial role. To better understand these controversies this research looks into the process of legitimization of performance enhancing equipment innovations from an institutional perspective by combining concepts of Strategic Action Field theory and innovation processes. Theory Strategic Action Field (SAF) theory describes three phases fields go through in resolving controversies and define actor roles present in the field; dominant actors, challengers and governance units. Innovation theory adds to this by distinguishing, users, producers and institutional actors. Within a field actors act strategically to maintain or strengthen their position in the field. During contentions these actors engage in strategic action to influence the legitimacy of new technologies. To better understand these processes this research distinguishes between three types of legitimacy and describes five strategies actors use to influence this legitimacy. Methods This research used a comparative multiple case study design looking into skinsuit usage in Skeleton, Cycling and Swimming. News articles and internet data were used as primary data sources for analysis. For each case the analysis consisted of five consecutive steps; open coding of the data, drafting a timeline, actor role analysis, legitimacy analysis, and a strategy analysis Lastly, all cases were compared based on the preceding analytical steps. These steps are further elaborated on below. Results All three cases followed different timelines. In all cases new technologies were introduces by a dominant actors through a user-producer interaction while opposition came from both dominant as challenger actors. Furthermore, in all cases the success and the visibility of new technologies showed to trigger contentions. During contention all actors engaged in strategic actions, framing and theorization was mostly used as a strategy. eventually cognitive legitimacy showed to have the most influence on settling these contentions. Discussion This research combines insights from both an innovation and institutional perspective to provide a better understanding of the legitimization process of technological innovations in elite sports. A new model integrating these perspectives with SAF theory is introduced to add to this understanding by showing how strategic actions and interactions between field actors influence this legitimacy. Furthermore, directions for future research to test and add to this model are discussed.