Across Europe, people were eagerly awaiting the kick-off for the first game of the 2021 European football championship in June. But why does this sport inspire the masses so much? One important reason is that football has become ever faster and more dynamic over the last years. Today’s athleticism and speed come along with custom-made developments of plastics: as an example, state-of-the-art footballs cater for a consistently good game control regardless of weather conditions. Water-repellent and sweat-repellent jerseys made of plastics ensure a high wearing comfort cross the entire playing time. Light and elastic football shoes offering optimal stability are perfectly in line with the needs of a top football player. Even the referee whistles, goal nets, corner flags, and shin guards are all made with plastics.
Up to all requirements
But outside football it also applies: today, many sport disciplines are unimaginable without the use of plastics. Usable for a wide range of applications, flexible or rigid depending on the application, always reliable and stable, the materials are revolutionising the performance in sports for both professionals and amateurs. It therefore comes as no surprise that special plastics such as polystyrene are being used increasingly by manufacturers of sports equipment. They are easy to dye, thus allowing an attractive design and exciting touches of colour. Plastics is therefore the material of choice for many sports articles such as skiing or bicycle helmets, snowboards, bicycle components, fitness devices, wearables, and many more.
Running shoes weighing only some grams and yet owning the stability and flexibility athletes need when sprinting off the starting blocks, making the difference between winning and losing. But they also make sports more fun – because they can make you feel like having wings or even like Usain Bolt for a moment. Here, plastics are the key drivers of sports shoe development, and this applies for running and jumping just as for hiking.
In running shoes, light, highly elastic, and shock-absorbing plastics cater for optimal support and absorption of the movements. This is easy on the joints and protects against twisting one’s ankle. If some athletes are too heavy on the scales, this can be taken into consideration by different structure and flexible hardness levels of the sports shoe sole. Even for shoes for the same type of sport, the range is meanwhile tailored to every need; tennis players, for example, may choose between shoes for sand, grass, or rubber granules courts.
Or for hiking shoes: the lining and tongue may be made of a loosely woven polyester fibre that is water-repellent and lets humidity on the outer skin quickly evaporate. Thus, the feet remain dry also in wet weather, and pleasingly cool in hot weather. For comfortable wearing und to support the feet, the midsole can be made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) – this special plastic guarantees a lightweight cushioning. Cushions made of polyester foam round off the shoe portfolio by providing additional comfort on the insole.
Secret star on the slope
For a sport like alpine skiing, where every millisecond can make the difference, the lightweight and stability of the material is an advantage every athlete can count on. Here, a plastic like ABS helps keep the shape of skis or snowboards stable despite highest strain levels – the material thus defies all weather conditions and each edge impact. At the same time, plastics allow many aesthetic frills and variations, e.g., by applying thin films. A factor that should not be underestimated by amateur athletes in the world of “seeing and being seen” on the slopes of St. Moritz or Kitzbühel.
Protected all around
What applies for all is “safety first”. Helmets made of the high-performance plastic polycarbonate protect particularly well cyclists and skiers. They adapt to the head shape and defy even strong shocks. Even the protectors used in hockey or ice hockey, or the gumshield for boxers cannot do without plastics – and the list could be much longer.