Professional athletes subject to unwarranted collection of personal data


April 13, 2022

The degree of personal surveillance and body surveillance currently tolerated in professional sports may be permitted in community sports and other workplaces if the current status quo of excessive collection of personal data remains unchallenged, according to a leading expert panel. .

Like some of the world’s biggest sports enthusiasts, Australians might think they know the role athlete data plays in professional sport.

But as sports fans, not just in Australia but around the world, who watch their favorite athletes in action, how many are aware of the extent of personal information collected on and off the pitch, from from sensor and video monitoring of athletes’ bodies during competition and training, to the intimacies of mental health, sleep quality, food intake and menstruation?

A new working paper released today by the 12-member expert working group convened by the Australian Academy of Sciences and the Minderoo Tech & Policy Lab at the University of Western Australia, says the growth of information data collected on Australian professional athletes exceeded scientifically proven data. advantage for players, the number of parties interested in this information – especially commercial parties – significantly alters the risk / reward ratio against athletes.

The discussion paper aims to start a national conversation to identify gaps and potential risks related to sports data governance in the main codes of football, basketball, netball and cricket in Australia. The task force says that legal and ethical safeguards and significant improvement in literacy and governance are needed to ensure that athletes and their rights are protected and promoted, both for their own benefit and in the public interest.

The group focused its attention on professional sport as the frontier of human oversight, but expressed concern about the growing adoption of these practices and technologies in junior sports and development pathways.

Associate Professor of Law and Technology Julia Powles. Photo: provided.

Led by co-chairs Associate Professor of Law and Technology Julia Powles and Professor of Artificial Intelligence Toby Walsh FAA and subject matter experts in sports science and sports governance, the group found that the collection of personal information on and off the pitch is now so common that it is simply a matter of routine.

Many athletes and the general public are unaware of how expansive and pervasive the practice has become, which begs the question: what are we really measuring and why?

Associate Professor Powles said there is an alarming distance between how sports currently handle athlete information and existing legal requirements.

Professor of Artificial Intelligence Toby Walsh FAA. Photo: provided.

“The collection of athlete data is almost completely unregulated, leaving it open to serious risks, including privacy and security breaches, commercial exploitation and career-impacting misuse. and livelihoods,” said Associate Professor Powles.

“It’s all the more surprising when weighed against the minimal gains this data powder keg offers, in terms of improved player performance, development and well-being.”

Professor Walsh said the team was eager to engage in a discussion about the necessary limits to be placed on the collection and use of data in professional sport to avoid the exploitation of athletes.

“In the absence of deterrents and limited perceived risk around ever-increasing data collection, accompanied by speculative promises that machine learning and future technologies will reveal new information, many sports currently have more data than they can demonstrate to be useful,” Professor Walsh said.

The expert working group’s conclusion is that Australia has a historic opportunity to put in place forward-looking practices for sports data governance, including legal, organizational and ethical boundaries around data collection and disclosure. use of athlete data.

The Australian Academy of Sciences acknowledges the support of the Minderoo Foundation Frontier Technology Initiative and the UWA Tech & Policy Lab for this project.

Read the full report

Launch event

6 p.m., April 13, 2022

The discussion paper is launched at an event that brings together experts from professional sport, sports science, artificial intelligence, law and governance to discuss the issues raised in the paper. The roundtable will be chaired by renowned sportscaster Tracey Holmes.

Watch the launch event


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