The Agency of Numbers: The Role of Metrics in Influencing the Valuation of Athletes
A number of authors have noted the increasing use of policies that emphasise accountability and measurable progress in sport. One component of these policies that has received less attention is the use of metrics, despite their increasing use owing to the proliferation of new technologies generating ever more data. In this chapter, we examine three cases to engage how the assessment and valuation of individual athletes is reduced to numeric values. First, we note the way that certain measures have become fixed illustrations that instantly indicate a strong performance, such as running the 100 m sprint in under 10 seconds. Second, we examine the case of the perfect 10 in gymnastics and note the struggle to reward gymnasts with the appropriate score using the 10 as a ceiling. Finally, we discuss how in both physical ability testing and the U.S. National Football League ‘combine’ system, the reduction of athletes to numeric values is contested. We analyse these cases through Latour’s concept of the immutable mobile and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of territorialisation. Our analysis highlights the significance of metrics as potential actors, a notion that has implications beyond sport and for further theorisation of non-human agency.
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