Around 250 MPs and distinguished scientists gathered at the House of Commons to discuss Science and Sport, as the Society of Biology hosted the biggest ever Parliamentary Links Day.
House of Commons speaker Rt Hon Jon Bercow MP opened the event, telling delegates that although there was a ‘great distance to travel’ in terms of promoting scientific understanding among MPs, there had been a great deal of progress in recent years.
Science and Universities Minister Rt Hon David Willetts MP said Parliamentary Links Day had become “the biggest gathering of scientists coming to parliament”.
“Often the sporting environment is one of the first places where technical innovations are seen and can be tested. Sport drives innovation,” he said before taking questions on scientific understanding in politics.
In the first of two panel discussions Andy Parkinson, chief executive of UK Anti-Doping, explained how new scientific techniques meant samples from athletes could be tested over long periods – up to eight years – and that the UK is leading the way in doping detection ahead of London 2012.
Steve Ingham from the English Institute of Sport told how advances in the science of altitude training was improving the performance of UK athletes. The Institute can now consistently increase athletes’ haemoglobin mass by up to 12%, where once not everyone would respond to this type of training. Simple advances in warm-up techniques have recently improved 400m sprint times by up to a second, he said.
UCL’s Director of the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health, Professor Fares Haddad, explained to delegates how advances in medicine for elite athletes often translates into better treatment for non-athletes. The University is currently working on the ‘holy grail’ of knee injury prevention, the ability to repair surface cartilage.
David Gordon, head of Media Events Coverage at the BBC, said the advance of digital technology would make coverage of this year’s Olympic Games more comprehensive than ever – with every sport available to watch and up to 24 events being broadcast simultaneously. Gordon also revealed that the BBC would soon be broadcasting in Super Hi-Vision, a broadcast technology 16 times higher definition than existing HD.
Later, Shadow Olympics Minister Rt Hon Dame Tessa Jowell MP thanked soil scientists for their work decontaminating 2000 tonnes of polluted soil and 20 million gallons of groundwater at the Olympic site, regenerating an area of wasteland the size of Hyde Park into housing and urban parkland.
The event was chaired by Andrew Miller MP, chair of House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.
Tom Ireland, Assistant Editor, The Biologist