Winning with plastics


Plastics have contributed dramatically to sporting achievement. They have improved the potential of sports equipment; they have helped to streamline athletes' bodies; they have enabled their muscles to be kept at the optimum temperature for optimum performance; and they have reduced injury. This exhibition explores the reasons why.

Key to the role of plastics in sport is that they are manmade and infinitely adaptable. Performance requirements in any piece of sports equipment or apparel can be analysed and the recipe for the plastic adapted to tailor-make a product as required.

Frequently the plastics are composites. This means that they are made of two or more materials with significantly different properties, for example carbon composite. It consists of carbonised acrylic fibres which are extremely strong and light, set in a matrix of another plastic, its selection dependent on what additional properties are required for the product. Plastics can also be used in tandem with natural materials, providing the best of all materials.

The most significant property of plastics in relation to sport is its lightness. Plastics can be lighter than any other material in the world, and stronger and stiffer. They can also be as flexible as required and moulded to any form. And they can be made 'smart', for example, so that they are sensitive to the environment or so that they stiffen on impact. Such can be their performance enhancing effect that their use raises ethical considerations. Is it the advanced materials or the athletes that are competing?

Plastics also contribute to sport on an everyday level. Equipment made from plastics requires less maintenance and lasts longer without loss of performance than that made from traditional materials. And plastics add emotional appeal: they are capable of a greater variety of feel and finish than any other material and brighten up the sports arena with their array of saturated and subtle colours. Most importantly, although highly engineered plastics can be expensive, most plastics are cheaper than natural materials and their production techniques more automated and faster. These aspects of plastics have made sport affordable and attractive to a broader spectrum of society. Thus plastics widen participation in sport in line with the Government's social inclusion agenda.

We should like to thank the following for their advice:

  • Amer Sports; Andy Meddings
  • Blue seventy; Sharon Bates
  • Dunlop Slazenger International Ltd; David Barrass
  • Head; Andy Catchpole
  • Ison Distribution Ltd; Matt Andrews
  • Karakal; Keith Sawyer
  • Lasting Sport; Martin Walter
  • Madison; Albert Steward
  • Mover Sportswear; Laurène Target
  • Plastics Historical Society; Steve Akhurst
  • Power Suit; Marcel Lebert
  • Science Museum; Susan Mossman
  • Swany; Mike Kellermueller
  • Teardrop Technologies; Tom Milsom
  • Trek; Andrew Griffin and Helen Guesford
  • TSG



  • Socks given by Lasting Sport
  • Fastskin given by Speedo


  • Blue seventy webbed gloves given by blue seventy
  • Canterbury cricket glove bladder given by Teardrop Technologies Ltd
  • Mittens given by Gore-Tex®
  • Swany G-Cell glove lent by Swany


  • TSG sam 08 helmet given by Matt Andrews at Ison Distribution Ltd with thanks to Ruedi Herger at TSG


  • Dunlop Aerogel 200 given by Dunlop Slazenger International Ltd
  • Wilson [K] Six, One Tour given by Amer Sports
  • Karakal CTi-205 given by Karakal UK


  • Giro Ionos and Giro Advantage Helmets given by Albert Steward at Madison

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