Sport science is unfair game

September 26, 2003

Michael Rennie, like Richard Caborn, argues that sport and exercise science fails to use research to benefit the public (Letters, THES, September 12; Subject special, THES, September 5). Both claim that there is little evidence that sport science has improved elite athletes' performances.

However, a conference held after the last Olympics heard evidence of the performance impact of biomechanics, sports psychology, exercise physiology and interdisciplinary sport science. ("Winning medals: the contribution of sport science" was organised by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences in association with the British Olympic Association and UK Sport.) Manchester Metropolitan University colleagues who work with Olympic and Paralympic performers could update this evidence base.

Rennie also claims that the "inflated (sport science) research assessment exercise ratings make a mockery of the assessment system in terms of scientific rigour and comparability". An alternative explanation for the discrepancies between physiology and sport and exercise science grades might be that the physiology grades were deflated for reasons that the Physiological Society has already debated.

The quality of my department's output certainly met the criteria for a 5* RAE rating (and the Higher Education Funding Council for England proposed 6* rating). Many of our publications appear in physiology journals accepted by physiologists as international standard (such as the Journal of Physiology, Journal of Experimental Biology, Journal of Applied Physiology, Muscle and Nerve ). The same benchmarks can be applied to our work in biomechanics and motor control.

I strongly contest the assertion that sport and exercise science graduates have "limited skills" to contribute to 21st century challenges. The IT, communication, time-management, teamwork and reflective skills they develop enable many to gain employment as, for example, exercise science specialists. When the annual cost of physical inactivity to the UK is estimated at 54,000 lives prematurely lost and £2 billion a year, according to the government's 2003 Game Plan report, sport and exercise scientists have a significant role to play.

What is required is a culture change to recognise their contribution. Sport and exercise scientists generate and disseminate knowledge and can help achieve the government's target of 70 per cent moderate physical activity in the population by 2020.

Les Burwitz
Head of exercise and sport science
Manchester Metropolitan University

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