Power to the player: empowering football players through data rights and data backpacks
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Professional football is currently in a data-driven era, with player metrics and performance statistics being heavily utilized by clubs and coaching staff to make strategic decisions. However, players often lack access control to their personal data. A lawsuit such as Project Red Card (also see this BBC article) has spotlighted potential violations of player data rights.
Recognizing the importance of player data rights, FIFA and FIFPRO have developed a Charter of Player Data Rights, empowering players to access, control, and also benefit from their data. This blog article investigates the advantages of a 'data backpack' system, which would give players greater access control over their data, aiding in performance enhancement, contract negotiations, and ethical data use.
A 'data backpack' is a digital repository of a player's personal and performance data. Utilizing Personal Data Stores, based on the Solid protocol, a decentralized data storage system, the 'data backpack' concept can be implemented, allowing players to store, manage, and share their data with stakeholders if based on a lawful ground of processing (need-to-know basis). It can serve individual players by helping them tailor training and recovery programs as well as monitor health and performance. Additionally, it has broader research applications in talent identification and injury risk mitigation.
As outlined below, we suggest that the adoption of a 'data backpack' system can empower players, making the football industry more equitable and transparent.
In the arena of professional football, data has transformed into a critical asset. Clubs, coaching staff, and sports scientists utilize player metrics and performance statistics to make data informed decisions regarding team strategies, player acquisitions, and overall performance optimization. However, in this transformative wave, players are often left with limited access control to their personal data. Recent legal cases have highlighted potential infringements of player data rights.
For instance, the ongoing Project Red Card litigation involves several professional footballers alleging that gaming, betting, and data-processing companies have misused their personal statistics without relying on a lawful processing ground to be allowed to process this data. Have a look at this paper e.g. for more detailed information about player data collection.
In a promising move towards acknowledging player data rights, FIFA, during the latest World Cup, offered players access to their performance data via the FIFA Player App. This tool provides players with individualized performance metrics, such as distance covered in various speed zones, enabling them to monitor their progress and identify areas for improvement. Alongside this, FIFA, in collaboration with FIFPRO, the international body representing professional footballers, developed a Charter of Player Data Rights, based on the fundamentals of the GDPR. This Charter outlines principles for the collection and usage of player data, including the players' access control rights, and receive compensation for its utilization.
Very recently, Skillcorner and Breakawaydata took steps in this direction and collaborate to provide professional footballers with free access to their personal tracking data and performance metrics, either directly through SkillCorner or via the BreakAway app.
This blog advocates for an increased awareness among footballers regarding their data rights and investigates the potential advantages of a personal 'data backpack' system. By reinstating data access control to the players, we can enable them to make more informed decisions throughout their career trajectory and beyond. This concept, while pertinent to football, can be extended to other sports, fostering a new era of athlete empowerment in the realm of sports technology and data.
Unpacking the significance of data rights in football
In the era of advanced technology and data-driven sports analytics, the comprehension of data rights is becoming increasingly vital for football players. Player data serves as a dual-purpose tool. It is not only a strategic asset for clubs and coaching staff, but also a significant resource for players themselves. Players can leverage their data to enhance their performance, mitigate injury risk, optimize contract negotiations, and drive their career trajectory. Furthermore, with increased access control over their data, players can ensure ethical and transparent usage of their information, thus empowering them to be informed about data accessibility and utilization purposes.
Unzipping the 'data backpack' concept
A 'data backpack' is envisaged as a personal digital repository, harbouring a player's personal and performance data throughout their professional journey. This data encompasses biographical details, career statistics, medical history, training data, and other pertinent information. Utilizing a data backpack enables players to retain access control over their data, allowing clubs, coaches, health professionals, and other stakeholders to access the data if based on a lawful ground of processing (need-to-know basis).
Data backpacks can foster a sense of independence among football players by reducing their reliance on clubs for their own data access and performance analysis. Players can utilize this data to identify load-recovery patterns, discover areas for improvement, and monitor progression. This information facilitates the players to make informed decisions about their physical status and personal development, without an exclusive dependence on their club's guidance. By storing the data in a 'data backpack' instead of at the club, players can even collaborate with specialists who can provide independent advice, prioritizing the player's interests.
The introduction of data backpacks not only bestows players with access control over their personal data but also presents promising opportunities for individual use and broader research applications. From an individual perspective, a personal data backpack can assist football players in myriad ways.
It can help them monitor performance, make daily training and lifestyle adjustments, and gather data on a range of metrics like training load, sleep quality, heart rate variability, and perceived wellness. These data can guide players in tailoring their training and recovery programs. In the long run, a personal data backpack can assist in injury prevention and career longevity by monitoring historical training load and outcomes. This data can help identify potential injury risks and make necessary adjustments. For young players, it can boost motivation through progress tracking. Indeed, it can promote player development by facilitating data sharing with coaches and personal trainers, improving the feedback quality and guidance.
As for the broader research implications, interfacing with players' data backpacks could support the analysis of intricate research queries. By aggregating anonymized data from players who opt to contribute to research initiatives, complex systems models employing multifactorial statistics or AI can be established to discern patterns, thereby enabling talent detection, and optimizing injury prevention strategies.
Talent Identification: Identifying and nurturing football talent is a complex and resource-intensive process. Complex models, when fed with comprehensive player data, can help predict and uncover hidden talent by analysing factors such as physical attributes, skill levels, and performance metrics. These models can then provide valuable insights to clubs and scouts, enabling them to discover promising players who may have otherwise been overlooked. This not only benefits clubs by allowing them to optimize their recruitment strategies but also provides opportunities for talented individuals to be recognized and nurtured.
Injury Risk Mitigation: Injuries are an unfortunate reality in professional football, often leading to significant setbacks for both players and clubs. By incorporating players' medical records, training data, and performance metrics into AI-driven models, researchers can identify patterns and correlations that may indicate a higher risk of injury. These insights can then be used by players, coaches, and medical staff to develop targeted training programs, implement preventive measures, and optimize recovery strategies, ultimately reducing the likelihood and impact of injuries on players' careers.
It is crucial to emphasize that any AI research utilizing players' data from their data backpacks should be carried out with strict adherence to data privacy and security guidelines. Players' health data should always be processed lawfully (e.g. via explicit consent), so that their data protection rights are safeguarded, and they retain access control over their personal information. Both within law as sports itself, these legal aspects can be considered a new field, still requiring a lot of work to be done, as was also announenced e.g. by CWRU law students.
That said, the current context of data silos and centralised repositories makes this difficult if not impossible, as the balance of power then lies with the sports club and the companies providing the technologies to them. For these reasons, in the next article we explore the potential use of the Solid protocol and the resulting Pods (Personal Data Stores) as a building block for a 'data backpack' system.
This blog article is the first part of two. Read the 2nd part here.
The authors would like to thank Simon Van Gorp for his valuable contributions.
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