All sports generate enormous amounts of data — and joining the dots are gamblers and gaming organisations that need such data to return profits in their business. An intriguing question is being asked in the UK now. To whom does this data belong? To the player, to the sports associations they represent, to nobody, to everybody?
And should the gaming industry, which uses the data, be paying the players for this, assuming that a player’s data belongs to no one but himself? Data rights is the new buzz-phrase (or relatively new) in sport. The courts will have to decide first whom the data belongs to before ruling on the lawsuit of half a billion brought by a company representing the players demanding compensation for the use of their data.
When in October of 2021, professional footballers in England threatened legal action against major gaming, betting and sports data companies — it was called Project Red Card — former Cardiff manager Russell Slade led the charge. Over a 1000 players wanted to be compensated for the trading of their data — something they had no control over. Companies were profiting from their personal data, argued the players. Then last September they launched the lawsuit.
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Slade and the lawyer and data expert Jason Dunlop founded Global Sports Data and Technology Group (GSDT) in 2019, to help athletes control and monetise the data being collected about them and their performances. Last month, England’s Professional Cricketers Association joined GSDT. “Professional cricketers’ data is being processed and sent all over the world, currently without the knowledge and understanding of the players,” GSDT said.
“It is being processed by companies outside of cricket for commercial purposes with little or no funding being returned to the players.”
There are too some players who, for religious reasons, are unhappy for the betting community to use their data. Players should be able to control who can use their data — that’s their reasoning.
If an individual reads another’s medical data, without permission there is a privacy issue. If he or his company then profits from it, then it becomes a commercial issue, and the person whose data it is has the right to ask for compensation.
But it is different in sports. A Lionel Messi, who is five foot seven, weighs 67 kg, and has scored 796 goals from 1008 matches has lived his entire career in the public eye, and there is little about his football that is not common knowledge. Can a court stop a company from using this data at all? Perhaps I simplify too much. Data protection laws exist in most countries, but that is private data (as opposed to Messi’s and other sportsmen’s ‘public’ data). On the other hand, gaming or gambling companies must necessarily use this public data to provide information and suggest possibilities to their customers. So there is a logic in compensating the sportsperson for this use.
Whichever way the case goes, it will be a major landmark in the consumption and enjoyment of sports.