Biometric data in sports

Blog > Biometric data in sports

Blog by Dejan Laninović, Sports Management program director

How to protect athletes’ biometric data?

It is not unknown that biometric data has been used in the creation of training for some time. As
technology advances, coaches and organizations themselves have more and more data that can
be used for various purposes.

We know that companies develop and produce chips that can be implemented in athletes or any
person on the planet and collect any kind of data. At the moment those chips are smaller than
grains of rice. And the use of them is painless and simple.

During my research, I have come to the conclusion that there is a lot of grey area in collecting data and
distributing them. Who owns them? Athletes, organizations, or someone else? And what to do if
someone abuses them?

Actually, what is biometric data and what do we know about it?

Biometric data refers to any kind of biological information from an individual athlete. These
metrics could include everything from pulse rate and blood glucose or oxygen levels to sweat rate
and sleep rhythms. Some biometric measurements, such as heart rate, have been used for
decades; now, though digital sensors and ubiquitous low-latency communication networks, many
more measurements can be made, in more physical locations, at greater speed.
Let’s see so far which data we can collect in general without any invasive procedures.

Another example of biometric data usage is cycling. A glucose sensor is worn on the upper arm.
It has tin fibril implanted just under the biker’s skin. The patch can monitor hydration and body
temperature which can be monitored thru a pill as well.

I believe that is just a matter of time before the big organizations that invest lots of money ask
and demand from athletes, in order to protect their investment, to put chips under the skin and
monitor all activities.

For example, IOC, UEFA, and FIFA can use chips for controlling if someone used doping during
big events such Olympic Games, or World or European championships.

Data usage and challenges

Can you imagine a scenario where before any game announcer commented that Luka Modrić had
7,5 hours of sleep and that his heart rate is above usual and his lactate blood levels are too low or
too high? How that information would influence fan engagement? And indirectly or directly
revenue stream?

Or Ronaldo allows a certain company to monitor his biometric data and uses it to develop a
specific application that shows his psychophysical condition.

Anyone who pays and downloads the app sees Ronaldo’s condition and can estimate the
percentage at which he will bet on his personal results. Or if all the Man United players agree to
share their biometric data with the same company? How much is that information worth?
Those are not impossible scenarios, as I mentioned before most of those data already exist. So
there is a question from the begging. Who owns the data? One thing is for sure, these information
are precious.

It is important to emphasize that in a high-level sport, the little things and details decide the
winner. At the top level, everyone is equally strong, fast, and well organized. I believe that access
to specific data can greatly change the outcome of a match.

Switzerland already has a couple of companies which develop capsules and software and
combined together give us final product a chip. The chip can be implemented in special
laboratories in to patients.

USA vs EUROPE interpretation of regulations

For example, the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) currently has an agreement with WHOOP
(American wearable technology company) that allows players to track their basic biometrics (heart
rate and sleep patterns).

Actual game data can be commercially sold; however, any data collected on the practice field —
or in a player’s bed — must be negotiated into future collective bargaining agreements.
The current collective bargaining agreement for MLB (Major League Baseball) permits players to
wear the technology but bans them from selling it. NBA players are not permitted to wear any
devices during games, and they are also not permitted to profit from the data.
The NHL (National Hockey League) has no provision in its collective bargaining agreement for
biometric data, but it is important to point out the existence of paper that ownership is already
looking to commercialize the data when the two sides meet again in 2022.
Alliance of American Football association which existed only one year did sell the data, but only to
MGM, who used it in live odds making.

EUROPE and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

In Europe, GDPR regulates and protects all personal data regardless of the industry that you are
in. Article 4 of GDPR clearly describes what is and who has rights of personal data.
So far football in Europe made the biggest breakthrough when we talk about biometric data
protection and usage.

FIFPRO (Worldwide representative organization for professional footballers) 2020 has issued a
document stressing the importance of athletes ’biometric data, in this case of football.
Referring to Article 4 of the GDPR which regulates the use of personal data, document notes that
athletes have absolute rights to their biometric data and how they will use it.

A couple of questions are asked accordingly. Can an athlete refuse to provide information to clubs
or institutions? Can the athlete provide this information for use by third parties? (bookmakers or
similar). How can clubs control athletes not to disclose this information to third parties?

Can chips be used as doping?

When we talk about doping, WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) is an organization with the
undisputed authority in the world of sports. The vast majority of all world federations are members
of WADA. Even the UFC, through the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency), which is a
signatory to the WADA as an organization, recognizes WADA’s doping guidelines.

As we mentioned before, it is clear that Article 4 of the GDPR speaks of the indisputable right of
every individual, regardless of whether he is an athlete or a “civilian”, to biometric data, but in the
case of sports, the question arises as to whether anti doping recommendations usable?
Can the implementation of the chip in the athlete’s body be characterized as doping or attempted

So far, I have not found an article in these recommendations that explicitly refers to the ban on the
use of this information or the installation of chips in the body.

For example, if there were a ban on the installation of a chip that helps an athlete who has a
diagnosis (e.g. diabetes) to monitor data that may have an impact on his health and is not in
conflict with doping recommendations and rules, would it conflict with fundamental rights for work
or competition in this case?

In the end, I asked a lot of questions that are entering the sphere of the future at the moment.
It is clear that the future is already here, and one thing is for sure: it will not be possible to
reach a global solution.
But certainly at the level of states and sports associations, certain basic rules will have to be set
for the purpose of ownership, data protection and misuse

The hyperquantified athlete: Technology, measurement, and the business of sports | Deloitte China | TMT Industry

Biometric Data Is The Next Statistical Frontier For Sportsbooks, Bettors (sportshandle.com)

MAC reaches stats partnership; data could be sold to sports betting companies (espn.com)