GDPR Compliance: Footballers challenge use of their data

Oct 26, 2021

Professional sports players’ performance statistics and attributes have become intrinsic to the sports industry. This sort of information is passed through a multitude of channels for determining odds, giving information to clubs on potential player transfers and opponents and it is widely published in the media sphere. The trading of this information can be extremely lucrative and profitable for those involved.

A wide scope of personal data about footballers is circulated, examples of which range from details of the footballer’s height and weight and their detailed match statistics over their whole careers.

A group of 850 footballers believe they should have greater control over the trading of this information. This is on the basis that there is a substantial amount of data which is routinely collected and processed by, to name a few, betting companies, scouting platforms and video game manufacturers. The group in question comprises of a range of players, mostly from lower league teams, and they supported by former Cardiff City manager Russell Slade and his Global Sports Data and Technology Group (GSDT) venture. Collectively they have sent letters before claim to 17 firms for 6 years’ worth of compensation for the misuse of their personal data and to demand an annual fee for the firms’ future uses of their personal data.


What are the legal issues?

Article 5(1) of the UK General Data Protection Regulations (UK GDPR) sets out key principles which lie at the heart of the general data protection regime and govern how organisations need to protect the data which they are processing about individuals. There are several issues at play for the footballers:


The group are arguing that the unchallenged use of their personal data by the firms contravenes their data protection rights because they do not consent to the trading of their data. 


Even if individuals do consent to their data being collected, the organisation processing their data needs to have communicated to the individual clearly and honestly about the purpose of it being collected. This is in line with one of the first data protection principle under the UK GDPR that says that data should be processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner.

Purpose limitation

The third principle says that data should be collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes. When organisations are transparent about the use of the data they are processing, they should be specifying exactly what is being done with their data and it should only be for legitimate purposes. The footballers may be concerned that their data is not being collected for legitimate purposes. Greater transparency given to the individuals, as above, should provide clarity on this


One of the key data protection principles under the UK GDPR is that data should be accurate and where necessary kept up to date. One concern of the footballers is that the repercussions can be damaging if the data being shared about them is inaccurate. They could miss out on transfers which are not only important for their personal careers but can shape the landscape of football as a whole.


The future of data rights in the sports industry

Chris Farnell, GSDT’s lawyer, predicts that this dispute will “change significantly how that data is being used and how it’s going to be rewarded”. The letter before action has not been published but if this case reaches the courts there will undoubtedly be keen speculation over the court’s decision and how it may shape the future use and sharing of data in the sports industry.

How can we help?

This story is another reminder of the importance of data being handled carefully by organisations.

If you have any concerns about the way your data is being used, or if you have questions about how your business uses data, please contact our Data Protection experts on 01276 686222 or via email: Mark.Chapman@herrington-carmichael.com and Cesare.McArdle@herrington-carmichael.com.

Our specialist team has great experience in data protection law and here is how they can help:

Data Protection Solicitors >

GDPR Compliance Solicitors >

Data Protection Breach Solicitors >

This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to your own particular matter before action is taken.

Mark Chapman

Mark Chapman

Partner, Corporate and Commercial Law

Cesare McArdle

Cesare McArdle

Legal Director, Commercial and Construction Law

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