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Sport 2030 plan raises questions regarding data custodianship of Australian sporting data & federal government overreach

View all · 21 Jan 2019 · revolutioniseSPORT

Sport Australia recently released a proposal for their 2030 Connected Sport Ambition, outlining their objective to connect digital technologies with Australia’s sporting sector. This project was developed as an attempt by the federal government to progress the sporting sector to the same level of digital competence as is present in many other industries.

One of the potential outcomes of the project is the development of the 'Sport Cloud', a digital platform that would function as a communal data warehouse for all Australian sporting organisations. Essentially, Sport Australia would be providing a digital layer between national sporting organisations and their technology vendors in an attempt to establish a "digitally connected Australian sport ecosystem".

An important term of reference here is the phrase 'Data Custodianship', which refers to those who hold the responsibility of protecting and keeping secure the organisation's 'data'.

Currently, the reality for many sporting organisations in Australia is that their technology vendor is the sole custodian of their data, and while the sporting organisation ultimately has intellectual property rights to, and sole right of, access to manage their information, the organisation itself is not the custodian of their data.

The Sport Cloud project would provide a central space for membership data that creates a secondary access pathway for sports, meaning that they would no longer have their data exclusively safeguarded by technology vendors. However, the questions that must then be asked are:

  • Is a federal government data warehouse any safer than the existing technology vendor solutions?
  • Does it make any more commercial sense compared to current solutions?
  • Does it add a layer of complexity to a (mostly) functioning industry?

As a result, national sporting organisations are now in a position where they must question what benefits (if any) a government service like Sport Cloud could offer, and weigh them against the potential risks associated with switching costs and government handling of personal data.

It is clear that implementing a national ecosystem for data through a platform like Sport Cloud may provide a range of favourable outcomes to both government and national sporting organisations. These benefits, however, also raise a number of concerns that must be evaluated in turn.


The benefits for government arise from the potential reporting capacities of Sport Cloud. Sport Australia would be able to aggregate wide-reaching demographic and participation data across different areas of the sporting sector. This information could then be used to:

  • Track cross-sport participation
  • Follow the lifecycle of different sports and participants within
  • Identify trends in how the community interacts with sport longitudinally

The primary benefit for national sporting organisations is the ability to hold a secure centralised copy of their membership data, making them vendor-agnostic. In turn, this would make it easier for sports to change providers by creating an independent, 'no strings' space for data storage. While Sports are not tethered to vendors currently and are free to leave at any time, a platform such as Sport Cloud would essentially eliminate the risk of loss of data resulting from soured business relationships with their technology vendors. (It would, however, add a layer of complexity for the vendors required to interface with Sport Cloud, which would in turn impact the operations of the national sports, at least during the change period.)


A primary concern raised by the introduction of Sport Cloud is the security of a data system provided by government, and whether data is stored and accessed in a safe and secure manner. Today we see many cases where the government has tried to centralise data, and, for the most part, the results have not exactly established them as a reliable data bank.

A prime example still fresh in public memory is the potential theft of 2016 Australian Census records upon the first move to a 100% online system, which did nothing to help the government's credibility and reputation for data protection.

Another is the government's move towards accessing personal health records without a valid court order (via the MyHealth system). In making this traditionally private medical data open to government departments (and other potential parties), they have potentially reduced public trust in their ability to provide dependable data custodianship services.

With Sport Australia now part of the Department of Health (noting that The Department of Health was also the author of the Sport 2030 plan), there is reason to be sceptical about whether Sport Cloud will be subject to legislative or regulatory oversight, or whether the data stored in this solution will also be able to be accessed by parties who may potentially abuse this sensitive information.

The above examples demonstrate how the reliability and security of data is crucial when considering Sport Cloud as a government-run project:

  • How will data security be enforced as an utmost priority? How will breaches and thefts be prevented?
  • Who, apart from government officials and departments, will have access to the data, and how will this be managed?
  • How will the objectives and interests of government influence how the data is managed?
  • What level of regulation will be enforced?

Of course, data security is not a concern limited only to Government involvement. There has been a number times where private companies have also experienced data breaches; however, the impacts that result from a security threat to a business in the industry are far less wide reaching than those that arise from Government breaches. This is because the data loss is generally contained to a smaller client group and the proximity to industry support often means that these specialised companies have the skills and resources to give them the needed agility to efficiently resolve any data threats.

Further, businesses are vulnerable to consumer impressions with their success often determined by customer interest and support. Private companies can lose their reputation in the market if their response to an incident is handled poorly and turns customers off. In this case, customers have the choice to go elsewhere and seek out business from competitors. Government, on the other hand, does not provide an alternative if the relationship sours and consumers are left with no opportunities to seek out substitutes, leaving them with no options to switch providers should a data breach occur.


While a platform such as Sport Cloud may be a favourable development for the Australian sporting sector, the fact that it is the government providing this project raises concerns surrounding its direction and capacity.

If the last few years are any indicator of future direction, the inability for Australia to hold a stable government, Prime Minister, or policy direction, does not bode well for longevity of the development and staged implementation of a complex digital infrastructure system. It is necessary to question how changes of government will affect the data warehouse they are proposing, and whether this project is at risk of being shelved by changes in policy. If shifts in budget priorities occurred, for example, then how would this affect their ability to continue to develop and provide the platform? If the program were to be shelved, are customers/users still able access this data, and what happens to their data if and when the government changes?

Further, what risk would this pose to an industry that would have heavily invested in changing to meet government requirements, if this project changes?

This would not be the first government data warehouse that has been shelved in sport. The 'Sports Accreditation Online' (SAO) system has also been retired, and industry vendors have since filled that niche by providing analogous services.


The next unknown to consider is how commercial values will influence the sports technology industry. It has long been the nature of government projects to curb innovation and creativity when developing any given solution—and for the process to blow out considerably with respect to costs and deadlines. Conversely, progression of the sports technology industry is founded in competitive innovation and a need to provide continual updates and improvements, within a timely fashion and often on shoestring budgets.

Invention by necessity is a critical pathway to transforming an industry. Look at the aerospace industry in the United States—formerly the domain exclusively of NASA, it is now being innovated by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, with a path to rocket reusability that government would never have considered. While this is an industry far removed from sport, it is an extreme example of government vs private ambition—where the government shelving or stalling its programs has driven the public sector to innovate.

If such a project as Sport Cloud was implemented by Sport Australia, its impact on the existing sports technology industry should be considered carefully, as should whether this would drive a loss of business for current vendors by minimising market demand.

In evaluating the viability of Sport Cloud, there should be rigorous investigation into the resources and scope needed to deliver such a huge project, and the issues surrounding data security and project longevity. At this point, it is unknown whether the government can deliver the project— as the changing nature of government resources with respect to staffing, budget, objectives, and vested interests may ultimately undermine the project's success.

For this reason it must be asked—could a project like Sport Cloud be better sustained and managed by an independent organisation within the sports industry rather than government itself?

Only time will tell, and it is up to the national sporting organisations to determine if this is something better left to industry, or whether government should fulfill this role.


Originally published on LinkedIn.