Australian athletes surveilled “24-7” concerned over personal data usage

Professional sports in Australia have been taken hostage by the promise of dollars that data can bring
20 April 2022
Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Professional sports in Australia have been taken hostage by the promise of dollars that data can bring, leading to an explosion in the capture of athletes' personal and private information collected from 24-7 monitoring with little to no regulations or safeguards.

An expert working group co-chaired by Professor Julia Powles found sports currently harvest vast amounts of data that cuts across rights of privacy, bodily autonomy, worker protections and human rights. 

Nobody interviewed by the working group could describe what happens to the collection of data once it was "put in the cloud". There are legitimate concerns around third-party access as data is passed on to broadcasters, wagering agencies, commercial entities and fans. 

Players have expressed concerns about sharing personal information like mental health status and menstrual cycles, citing instances of masking or distorting their information before uploading the data requested by their sports.

Rugby League Players Association chief executive Clint Newton believes the commercialisation of athlete data is looming. He said more targeted discussions between player groups and governing bodies over ownership and compensation of personal athlete data were crucial.

Data analytics is a growing area inside most professional sports teams, often at the expense of traditional experts in sports science. The added opportunity to commercialise player data has led to an exponential increase in its importance inside the professional sports environment.

Bioethicists recommend an independent regulatory body consisting of data scientists, player associations, regulatory experts and sports administrators to develop best practices. But that would require a more collaborative approach to professional sport in Australia, which is still governed by a top-down power structure.

The cost of not building a fit-for-purpose integrity and ethics-based framework for data use now could lead to expensive lawsuits down the track. The NFL settled a concussion lawsuit in 2015 worth $1 billion after a class action accused the NFL of hiding the dangers of repeated concussions. It is unlikely any sport in Australia could survive a similar lawsuit.

- CyberBeat



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