Hundreds of professional footballers are threatening to sue major betting, entertainment and data collection firms over what they claim is the unlawful collection and sharing of their performance data, a practice they insist is in breach of GDPR.
The potential legal action is being led by the Global Sports Data & Technology Group, a company run by former Cardiff City, Leyton Orient and Yeovil Town manager Russell Slade, and representing more than 850 players.
The case centres on the fact that performance data has collected and then traded without the players’ consent for the past six years. Those behind the action are demanding an annual fee from the companies for any future use.
Under Article 4 of the GDPR, “personal data” refers to a range or identifiable information, such as physical attributes, location data or physiological information.
Slade said: “It’s incredible where it’s used. On one player, and I’m not talking about a Premier League player or even a Championship player, there was some 7,000 pieces of information on one individual player at a lower league football club.
“There are companies that are taking that data and processing that data without the individual consent of that player.
“A big part of our journey has been looking at that ecosystem and plotting out where that data starts, who’s processing it, where it finishes and that’s a real global thing. It’s making football – and all sports – aware of the implications and what needs to change.”
According to the BBC, so-called “Letters before action” have been sent to 17 big firms, alleging data misuse, but the firm has more than 150 organisations in its sights.
The lawyer representing Global Sports Data & Technology’s action, Chris Farnell, believes it could be start of a sport-wide reshaping of how data is traded.
“This will be significant change if the precedent is set throughout football and how data is used throughout sport in general. It will change significantly how that data is being used and how it’s going to be rewarded.”
Farnell said the implications could have far-reaching effects beyond football it is understood discussions are already underway within other professional sports to bring potential legal action regarding the trading of data.
Former Wales international Dave Edwards, one the players involved, told the BBC it was a chance for players to take more control of the way information about them is used.
“The more I’ve looked into it and you see how our data is used, the amount of channels it’s passed through, all the different organisations which use it, I feel as a player we should have a say on who is allowed to use it. Anyone else in the world would have that say. Just because we’re footballers and we’re in the public domain that gets overlooked.
“If you were in another job, if you were a teacher of a lawyer and this sort of details was being passed around your field of work it wouldn’t sit right with that person. I don’t think we, as individuals really differ from that.”
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