The Athlete Perspective: What can blockchain do for me?

So what is internet, anyway? - Bryant Gumble’s now infamous quote from NBC’s Today Show in 1994 is a fitting way to begin any discussion about the current state of blockchain technology. Like the internet in ‘94, the much ballyhooed “blockchain” is still nascent technology and often misunderstood. Part of the trouble stems from the simple fact that explaining new technology is hard, even the Microsoft pioneer Bill Gates had trouble explaining the internet back in ‘95, with his best ‘use cases’ failing to win over a skeptical host David Letterman on the Tonight Show. However Letterman was astute enough to admit that “it’s easy to criticize something you don’t fully understand,” which now given 22 years of internet hindsight proves just a little prophetic.

We at Sports Technology Group (STG) are here to help you make sense of new technology. We combine extensive experience building cutting-edge blockchain solutions with a deep passion for sport. We are confident that blockchain will revolutionize every component and reshape every interaction in the sports ecosystem. Don’t believe us? Just look at what Ginni Rometty the CEO of IBM thinks.

“What the internet did for communications, blockchain will do for trusted transactions.

As a Two-Time Olympian, who has played professionally in 3 countries during a 12 year international career, I have seen a whole host of inefficiencies in the sports system and I will lay out a few of the ways I believe blockchain technology can help athletes!

Anti-Doping

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Sadly, recent developments including the documentary Icarus - which publicized the Russian state-sponsored doping program from the Sochi Olympics, or the retaliatory ‘fancy bear’ cyber hacks on WADA in 2016 - which released a batch of confidential athlete medical data to the public have only served to increase my cynicism towards the notion of fair and clean sport.  As an athlete who provides whereabouts information and is regularly tested by anti-doping bodies in multiple countries around the world I have a decreasing lack of faith that my personal data will stay secure and that the system itself is truly impartial.

Blockchain technology could be hugely influential in this space and power a distributed network where athletes control who sees their personal data and trust that their information is being secured in a system without a single point of failure. Additionally, each stakeholder could have oversight over the entire sample supply chain network, fostering trust and bringing a layer of transparency to a process currently shrouded in mystery.

Contracts

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Negotiating, vetting, altering and signing contracts is currently an extremely inefficient process, especially when one is working with clubs across continents and oceans.  Contract signing is admin intensive, time consuming and even in our digital age still requires paper, printers, faxes, track changes, phone calls and emails between key parties.

Blockchain could help streamline these redundant processes by acting as an arbiter of trust in a newly digitized contractual system. The stakeholders - aka agents, athletes, teams and leagues - in this network could digitally view, adjust, record and sign the terms of the contract and every adjustment would be transparent, fully validated and immutably recorded onto a shared database. Thus eliminating the need for manual reconciliation.


Banking

Moving to a new country is never an easy task and one of the first and most cumbersome jobs is setting up a local bank account. The process typically involves multiple trips to the local bank working through all types of personal identification, proof of residencies and letters from the club and local government. Once you are set up with your bank account the next issue is getting clubs and sponsors to actually pay you on time as whether it is salaries, bonuses or appearance fees I have experienced issues that extend well beyond net 90. Lastly and equally frustrating can be sending remittance payments home as this process includes high fees and week long transaction times.

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Utilizing blockchain, this entire operation could be streamlined and automated with digital wallets unique to each individual that accept cryptocurrency or other electronic payments efficiently and without geographic constraints. In addition, payments from sponsors or clubs could be automated with the option for bonuses, prize money or remittances being baked directly into the payment process itself via smart contracting. This simplification of the payment process would decrease athlete stress significantly and eliminate the hassle of creating overseas bank accounts.

Monetization

Currently athletes aren’t able to fully capitalize on their true brand value and powerful intermediaries often choose to line their own pockets at the expense of the broader athlete base - think IOC or NCAA. However, blockchain technology brings new opportunities to empower athletes by allowing them to connect directly with fans and monetize their personal brand/data without intermediaries.

Using blockchain, athletes could create unique, scarce and collectible digital representations of themselves, which would function like 21st century collectible cards. These digital tokens could be purchased, exchanged and/or traded by fans and speculators alike, without the consent of the powerful rent-seeking intermediaries. Bringing divisibility and liquidity to previously fixed assets is already happening with real estate and fine art, and I believe blockchain can do the same for athletes, unlocking a whole new way for fans to engage with their sporting heroes. Picture being able to add pieces of the Heisman Trophy winner, LeBron James or a young Brazilian Soccer player to a diversified investment portfolio?!

Overall, these are just some of the ways I think blockchain could impact, improve and streamline the life of an athlete. We are currently building technology which incorporates these ideas, and would love to hear what you think! Leave a comment or reach out and I’ll be sure to hit you back!