Reading between the lines: The Data Protection Act and its implications for sport

Our Policy and Parliamentary Officer Charlotte Adams examines the Data Protection Act and the implications it will have on sport.

There is little fanfare when bills complete the final hurdle and are effectively ‘signed off’ by both Houses of Parliament. Such was the case this week when the now Data Protection Act completed its final stages of parliamentary scrutiny, having been introduced eight months earlier. This statute is worthy of recognition as it guarantees that sports governing bodies will have a clear legal basis to process data for safeguarding, anti-doping and integrity purposes – which until a few months ago, remained in question.

What is the Data Protection Act and why is it relevant to sport?

The Act updates the UK’s data protection regime in accordance with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force today (25 May). As part of the new GDPR requirements, individuals have the right to access data which an organisation might hold about them and potentially ask for such data to be erased or for its use to be restricted. Importantly, data controllers must have clear legal grounds on which to collect, use and store (or ‘process’) personal data. (The Alliance has produced a helpful GDPR toolkit, should you need further information about becoming GDPR compliant).

When the legislation was first introduced, it was unclear whether sports governing bodies could continue to process certain data lawfully, for important regulatory functions in the broader public interest – such as preventing match fixing and doping, or protecting individuals from harm. For example, governing bodies provide a “protective function” of safeguarding members of their sport which requires the ability to process certain types of data without restriction in order to do this effectively. The legislation in its initial form therefore offered no statutory framework to enable governing bodies to do this –potentially putting sport participants at risk.

The Alliance, with the support of its member governing bodies and legal representatives, recognised these challenges and worked hard to make sure the Bill provided sports governing bodies with this legal certainty. This included:  

  • Working with government and officials to highlight the importance of protecting sport and its participants from threats to integrity and encouraging them to strengthen and supplement existing provisions in the Bill;
  • Providing evidence on behalf of the sector to the Public Bill Committee, which scrutinised the legislation line-by-line and provided MPs with the opportunity to hold government to account on specific proposals;
  • Engaging with individual parliamentarians ahead of key debates to explain the importance of specific provisions in the Bill and to call on their support.

These actions demonstrate the importance of the Alliance’s parliamentary work and in particular, our role in mobilising our members and a network of supportive MPs and peers, often at short notice, to address specific legislative issues on behalf of the sector.

We are pleased that, ultimately, government recognised and listened to our concerns and acted to make sure the final legislation works in sports’ best interests. While there was no parliamentary red carpet to mark the occasion, the new Act – which is now law – should better protect sport and all those who participate in it.


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