Friday 14 December 2018

New data regulations will be a game-changer for sport

Irish players celebrate Grand Slam
Irish players celebrate Grand Slam

Trev Keane

Whether sport is ready or not, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is coming this May. This will impact all levels of sport from grassroots clubs and professional teams to governing bodies - basically any organisation that has fans, members and athletes.

These organisations, volunteer or otherwise, all hold personal data relating to players, fans/customers, employees and volunteers. It is important that they have processes and procedures in place governing the use of that data and the access to it.

One key area of GDPR is the transfer of data. Referred to as data portability, it is one of the eight rights of 'data subjects', or the fans, players, staff and volunteers of a sports club, and enforced by the GDPR legislation. It allows data subjects to request their data be made available to anyone they request, including themselves.

The second part of this, the right for another controller (sporting organisation) to request access is an area that could impact the future of the sport in the same way that the Bosman Ruling in 1995 changed professional football as we know it. Here is what Article 20 of GDPR states: "The data subject shall have the right to receive the personal data concerning him or her, which he or she has provided to a controller and have the right to transmit those data to another controller without hindrance."

According to data analytics expert Fiona Green, this is a crucial area and one sports bodies, clubs and teams need to be aware of. "For many rights owners, the issue of portability won't have a huge impact - there aren't many occasions in sport when an individual will request that their information is made available for another party to collect it," she says. "However, the area I believe will cause the most concern is data related to a player's performance."

Green is the founder of Winners and has 30 years' experience operating in the professional sports industry representing intellectual property for rights holders including FIFA and UEFA. She has worked with clubs and bodies to ensure that they understand the impact that GDPR will have on their ability to become data-driven organisations and to ensure they are compliant with the legislation.

Things get more interesting as you delve into the guidelines with personal data referred in the documentation as information that "relates to the data subject's activity or results from the observation of an individual's behaviour".

"Sports clubs collect huge amounts of data on their players, GPS, fitness, psychological, diet data and much more," adds Green. "So how much of this data does a player have the right to take with them when they transfer from one club to another? For example, if an Irish rugby player decides to leave Ireland for France, how much of their biometrics and other training data will they be allowed to access?"

If this is the case then that data, along with the obvious player insight, could reveal the systems used to manage, collate and process that information. This could indeed change the transfer game as we know it. Will clubs be extra-motivated to move for players in the knowledge that they acquire potential game-changing information from their rivals? Will this acquisition of data be used to shape the in-house talent-identification process for clubs and organisations? While there are competitive advantages to be gained from the application of GDPR in elite and professional sport, the impact on amateur sport will be felt in a different way.

The GDPR in the UK and Ireland actually softens the existing data-usage guidelines allowing those aged 13 to legally hand over data and permission to use and process it without the explicit approval of a parent or guardian.

Clubs will be required to put adequate systems in place to verify individual ages of members/players and gather and store consent from members and guardians. Consent needs to be verifiable and therefore communicated to underage members in plain and simple language.

According to Green, "GDPR is a complex law and the topic of data portability is just one aspect. It is important that sporting bodies and organisations read and understand the guidelines but as many of the areas are 'grey', clubs will be relying on case law before we understand the full implications."

While clubs are already worried about the impact of GDPR, the fact that case law will potentially form the basis for how the guidelines are applied adds additional layers of worry not yet fully understood.

While the impact of GDPR on sport is yet to be felt, professional and amateur clubs need to quickly embrace this change and put adequate processes in place to avoid breaching the new rules. However anxious clubs are, the future use of minors' data will be a cause of serious concern for parents and guardians.

  • Trev Keane is CEO of data analytics company, Sportego. Fiona Green will be speaking about GDPR and its impact at #FECD18 conference at the Aviva Stadium on March 28

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