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How digital identity can safeguard football

The 2022 Qatar World Cup highlighted how the sports industry is increasingly merging with technology.

 Technology took centre stage, helping officials make critical calls, keeping spectators safe and fans engaged and providing players with access to data after their matches.

Organisers have also embraced digital identity, with all local and international fans attending World Cup matches filling out a Hayya card, a digital identification app that requires fans to upload a photo of their face and to scan their passport.

This is the latest example of football embracing digital identity. But what is it? And what are the benefits? 

What is digital identity?

Your digital identity is a collection of personal data about you that exists online.

There’s no definitive, technical definition of digital identity across the globe, as many important organisations such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum have their own descriptions of the concept.

My definition of a digital identity is made up of 3 simple components:

  • The first part of your digital identity is your digital attributes. This is any personal information that identifies you. This could be things such as your name, address, or date of birth.

  • Next, those pieces of personal information go through a verification process that makes sure the information is connected to you. This verification is done by a certified party, like us, and an example of this is using your bank-verified information.

  • The final piece of the puzzle is you and your authentication details. Don’t worry, it’s simpler than it sounds. Authentication just means how you prove that you are the person this verified information belongs to, and could be a password, a PIN or your fingerprint/ face ID.

So essentially, your digital identity is made up of digital attributes that identify you as an individual. This information is then verified to be true and accurate and is accessed by you whenever you need to use it through usernames, passwords, PINs or fingerprint/ face ID login.

If you have all three of these components to make up your digital identity, then it can always be used to prove who you are online safely and securely.

Digital identity and football 

Digital identity has the potential to bring real benefits to football clubs and some have been quick to embrace it.

Millwall FC, for example, uses digital identity to transform its online offering for supporters. Fans can now quickly and easily register for a single sign on account, helping the club to sell more tickets and merchandise online. 

But digital identity has the potential to do so much more for the sport, especially when it comes to tackling some of the major issues that damage the reputation of the football industry.

Online abuse, dubbed ‘the dark side of the beautiful game’, is widespread. The Alan Turing Institute and Ofcom found that of the 2.3m tweets sent during the first half of the 2021-2022 season, more than 60,000 were abusive.

An average of 362 abusive tweets were sent every day during that period, equivalent to “one every four minutes”, Ofcom said. Seven in ten Premier League stars were affected and 12 particular players faced “a barrage of abuse” – each receiving an average 15 abusive tweets daily. 

Another big problem is ticket fraud. A quick Google reveals a litany of stories of people losing hundreds, sometimes thousands, to fraudsters. Analysis conducted by Lloyds suggests reported cases of ticket scams relating to football increased by more than two-thirds, or 68%, between January and June this year, compared to July to December 2021. Victims lost £410 on average according to the bank.

Underage gambling also affects the sport, which heavily relies on sponsorships from gambling firms. Findings from a behavioural risk audit of gambling platforms operating in the UK carried out by the newly established Gambling Policy & Research Unit of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), found that a number of the largest gambling companies operating in the UK are falling short in their duty of care.

Digital authentication technology can help solve each of these issues. For online abuse, the introduction of user verification of social media could prevent trolls hiding behind fake profiles from abusing players and help law enforcement to identity perpetrators.

With ticket fraud, a digital identity system would verify identities on either end of a transaction to ensure the buyer and seller are who they say they are, negating the potential for fraud.

For underage gambling, digital identity can help verify the age of users of gambling platforms, protecting underage people from accessing age restricted services and protecting gambling firms from falling foul of the government.

The growing threat of online abuse, fraud and underage gambling is causing real problems for the football industry. While football has started its digital identity journey, it’s vital that associations, clubs and tournament organisers continue to explore the benefits of this technology to make the sport a safer space for players and fans.



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