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Russell Slade: Ex-manager leads lawsuit over use of players' personal data

A major lawsuit signed by over 400 professional footballers, spearheaded by Russell Slade, could rewrite how personal data is handled in the game.

Footballers from the highest levels of the game are preparing to sue companies using their personal playing data. If successful, this may create a knock-on effect for more athletes across other sports to follow suit.

The move could revolutionise how information is traded and could see players in line for compensation.

"Players need to be signing [consent] if their data is going to travel," said former Cardiff City manager Slade.

"One or two clubs are seeing it now, we want to help them get this right. Obviously data in clubs is there for players to improve but they should be signing their consent for it to be used.

"We have found that the accuracy of data is staggering, most players on board have wrong data stored.

"I've had a centre-back where on one platform his height was down as 5ft 7in (1.70m).

"That wouldn't be an issue over here as people would know who he is, but that could have been an issue getting a job abroad."

The group action brought by the players will target companies such as computer games manufacturers and betting companies who use players' personal data for their products.

The trading of player data has been a staple product within professional football for almost as long as the game itself but its value has risen dramatically as the game has grown its commercial appeal.

Take betting, for example. A multi-billion pound industry where companies have long looked to player data - from average goals to number of clean sheets and everything in between - as the basis from which they set their odds.

And then there is computer games, built on the appeal of officially licensed, replicated avatars of the game's top stars and journeyman players alike.

While this is a well-established and officially licensed route that sees companies pay millions of pounds themselves for access to the information via clubs or leagues, this new lawsuit will assert that the one group of people who have never given consent are the players themselves. Moreover, they are not reimbursed for their data either.

Putting the players back in control is the driving force behind the involvement of former Cardiff City, Leyton Orient and Yeovil manager Slade, who has seen both the highs and lows of the professional game.

The lawsuit is being led by Slade and the sports data and technology firm Global Sports Data and Technology Group, which he co-founded with Cardiff-based technology expert Jason Dunlop.

"I took Jason to a company to have an insight into how data works in sport. In that meeting he simply asked, 'who does the data belong to?'" said Slade.

"The guy at the company said, 'we do', and as we left we were going down the stairs and Jason was straight on me, saying the players should own the data as it's personal data.

"That was the light-bulb moment."

Dunlop added: "We have no issue with football clubs using the data, nor do the players involved in this case.

"Our issue is where data goes thereafter. We believe it goes into betting companies, gaming companies."

This is the basis from which the legal challenge, headed by Dean Armstrong QC, who can count the Leveson Inquiry amongst his recent actions, will be put.

Using the requirements placed by the General Data Protection Regulations brought in in 2018, players will claim that they have neither given consent, nor received the chance to change data they feel misrepresents them, nor have they been given the chance to be either reimbursed for their use or taken out of it entirely - all staples of the GDPR rules.

Author: James Parker