After recent reports in the Indian media of Saurav Ghosal’s lockdown experiences come the views of the current world men’s number 13 on player data, personal privacy and, er, gossip.
The background to Ghosal’s comments lies in the commercial partnership between the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and Sports Data Labs (SDL), a US provider of “human data technology”. The purpose of the partnership is to help the PSA utilise “in-game human data solutions to provide human performance metrics for its live broadcasts, as well as for player optimisation and training purposes.” The popularity of personal ‘fitness tracking’ devices may be one reason why the PSA is exploring the use of player data to attract more interest in the sport.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (Unknown but not Mark Twain)
The player data in question includes such physiological information as distance covered during matches, speed and heart rate which, even now, is displayed on courtside screens during some major tournaments. The PSA knows that, under EU and UK law, ownership of this data belongs to individual players and that their personal consent to its use, and re-use, has to be secured on an individual and, presumably, commercially-agreeable basis.
To complicate matters, not all relevant national and supranational (e.g. EU) laws require the same level of protection for individuals against the collection, storage and use of their data without their personal consent. The concept of ‘personal privacy’ also varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. US law, for example, does not recognise the right of individuals to opt out of the automatic collection and use of their personal data for marketing and other ‘re-use’ purposes, e.g. by social media companies and their advertising clients.
Other national personal privacy laws unsurprisingly reflect their countries’ political cultures and social norms. India’s recently-implemented legislation, the Personal Data Protection Bill, follows the EU and UK models as does that of Qatar. The Indian law, however, makes specific reference to certain categories of data, some of which could be regarded as falling under the PSA / SDL player data category, e.g. health data, whereas others such as biometric and genetic may not. In contrast, Egypt’s soon to be implemented Data Protection Law applies only to companies and their responsibilities for protecting the personal data of their employees.
In light of such a complex, and evolving, legal situation the question naturally arises as to who has the legal right to assess the risks, costs and benefits to individual players associated with the sharing of their personal data, and for what purpose?
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)
To date, Saurav Ghosal has not signed up to the brave new world of player data monetisation but recognises the commercial need for squash to engage with a world increasingly characterised by social media gossip and the popular obsession with statistics. While some may regard player data and derived statistics as being of subjective interest, others may not or remain either disinterested or sceptical. “An ideal heart rate can’t be set as a target,” says coach and current Secretary General of India’s Squash Rackets Federation, Cyrus Poncha. Commercialising access to player data may, it seems, be more effective in attracting the attention of some statistics-loving spectators than in helping coaches or players to improve their approaches to training and performance.
The question also remains as to whether any objectively-valuable player data will ever be collectible using human data technology. As Saurav Ghosal says, “Things like a good read on the game and the mental side cannot be measured. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic are all good, but they are made differently – which can’t be calibrated.”