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  • Writer's pictureFox Ellis

Data in Sports and the Importance of Self-Sovereign Identity

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

Last summer, amid the return of professional sports during a global pandemic, a lawsuit occurred in the world of European football that could send shockwaves not only through Europe but the world of sports as a whole.

In July of 2020, over 400 former and current players across the Premier League, the EFL, the National League, and the Scottish Premiership signed on to legal action against gaming, betting, and data-processing companies. Referred to as Project Red Card, football manager Russell Slade and a team of lawyers and data specialists are taking on companies to recover lost income stretching back six years in relation to these companies utilizing personal statistics without their consent or compensation.

The Data in Play

Data from private training sessions and public matches are monitored constantly and what's being done with that data is cause for concern.

Specifically in football, but not limited to other sports, professional clubs are tracking their players' metrics to evaluate how they are performing at the most basic level. Sounds fair, right? But it goes beyond the clubs as the lines begin to blur because there must be somebody to process this data. Now that the information is in the hands of specialist processing companies, they can distribute data to outside organizations, including broadcast and news providers, video game developers, and betting/fantasy sports companies.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires that data be processed fairly and transparently. A potential claim in the Project Red Card case is that these clubs have not informed their athletes how they are using their data, leading to a lack of transparency and fairness.

Consent for Athletes

Industries that utilize data from athletes are continuing to grow and thrive, including betting and e-sports companies. To continue to benefit from the information already in use, these companies may have to seek consent from the athletes.

Already exhibited has been the successful consent process for an athlete's Name, Image, & Likeness. Take the NFL, for example. The NFLPA agrees with EA Sports to allow player's names and likeness to be used in the company's video games. The player's union receives a licensing fee on behalf of the players. This is one example of how athletes benefit from their likeness creating a profit for other industries.

On the other side of the coin, we recently saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic speak out against the same company, EA, for using his name and likeness without consent.

Real Madrid star, Gareth Bale followed up with the same gripe, both players believing their likenesses are being used without proper consent.

The outcome of Project Red Card is yet to be seen, nonetheless, it has helped craft a dialogue that goes beyond sports.

So, with the rapid evolution of media and technology, how can individuals manage and protect their data?

Self-Sovereign Identity

In short, self-sovereign identity describes a digital movement that's focus strives for an individual to own and control their identity without the intervention of administrative authorities—in essence, having complete control and power over our information in a world where it is constantly collected.

How do we achieve Self-Sovereign Identities?

Our data has become the world's most valuable commodity. It seems just about everything we do is tracked, from social media interactions, location data, search-engine queries to our heart rate, steps, and sleep patterns.

These data points and thousands more like it are being monitored, organized, and sold. The question is, how do we reign this all in?

In a 2020 article featured on, Sean Stein Smith suggests a potential solution in Blockchain technology:

To function as advertised, a self-sovereign identity system requires a digital infrastructure that is scalable, distributed, decentralized, and provides adequate levels of security to protect this valuable information. Blockchain, in its various forms, offers a potential answer for this problem that has – to date – prevented the idea of a truly self-sovereign identity system from becoming a reality.

While we know blockchain, on a more mainstream level, as the storage unit for cryptocurrencies, it's emerging as a valuable asset for a self-sovereign society. When Smith refers to the blockchain as a decentralized infrastructure, it simply refers to the rights of the participants involved. With decentralization, anybody can participate and transact on the network. On the other hand, a centralized organization, like a bank, can only be controlled by parties in power, creating less freedom and flexibility for those using the platforms.

Decentralized blockchain infrastructure is a platform for individuals to monitor, transact, and secure their data and digital belongings without the involvement and infringement of third parties.

The continual development of self-sovereign identity is a matter of staying on top, regardless of your profession. Taking power into our own hands and understanding the importance of personal freedom in data protection will create ease and comfort when navigating a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

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