By Robert Jan Schumacher
The Koninklijke Nederlandse Lawn Tennis Bond (KNLTB) is the overarching organisation of the tennis and padel sports and the tennis and padel associations in the Netherlands. It is the second largest sports federation in the Netherlands. The KNLTB advises and supports boards of associations in the field of policy, accommodation and in legal disputes and is responsible for national and regional competitions, tournaments and the training of teachers and referees. We spoke with Robert Jan Schumacher, Director of Services, about the data and privacy aspects of the Dutch tennis and padel federation. How to operate on a national level and on an international level? And how does the KNLTB view the €525,000 fine they received from the Dutch DPA (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens) at the end of 2019?
Question 1) The KNLTB works together with, among others, NOC*NSF and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. This collaboration is very important in the context of privacy in sports. Can you tell me what the collaboration looks like and what the most important focal points are?
The KNLTB is a non-profit organization that, together with more than 1600 local tennis- and padelassociations and tens of thousands of volunteers, is committed to motivating more people to play tennis and padel. The KNLTB believes in the power of sport in general and tennis and padel in particular. The power to get society going and keep it moving. To make people fitter and healthier. And to unite people and make them work together, regardless of their age, origin or gender. Sports associations are therefore an indispensable link for a strong and energetic society.
The KNLTB realizes that privacy is an important social theme. In the run-up to the introduction of the GDPR (May 2018), our policy with regard to the processing of personal data has therefore been extensively validated and tested internally. The KNLTB has relied in that respect on the NOC*NSF guideline in the Sport & Privacy Handbook. For many organizations and also for sports associations, it is a matter of looking for a fair balance between the privacy of members and aiming for an optimal service to our members and associations. The KNLTB is constantly guided by external experts, including an independent Data Protection Officer.
To take privacy in sports to the next level, the KNLTB works together with the NOC*NSF, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and other sports associations. Relevant developments in privacy and the consequences for sport are discussed, as well as actual cases.
Question 2) If I understood correctly, the data and privacy aspects of the KNLTB can be divided into three groups: top athletes, club members and associations (of which the associations are all volunteers). What role does the privacy aspect of individuals play in these three groups? And how does the KNLTB participate in all this?
The KNLTB processes personal data in the context of the membership of the 560,000 tennis and padelplayers. Personal data is processed in the context of membership of the KNLTB, whether it concerns top sport or recreational sport. Local associations also process personal data for their local association administration. The KNLTB supports the local associations in this by giving information and handing out model agreements.
In specific circumstances, the sharing of personal data between external parties (e.g. clubs) and the KNLTB is necessary for an optimal service to our members and associations. For example, for organizing competitions and tournaments or facilitating the membership administration of clubs. Also the KNLTB would like to stress out that members are informed about their rights and the control they have regarding privacy by their clubs as well as by the KNLTB.
Our members are increasingly asking for added value and direct benefit from membership of a KNLTB association. The KNLTB therefore enters into partnerships with partners to enable members to benefit from relevant offers. In addition, with these partnerships we (tried to) generate income for tennis in the Netherlands. This is how we keep tennis and padel accessible and affordable for everyone.
Question 3) Building on the role the KNLTB plays (internally) in privacy and how you deal with the processing of personal data. Is the role you play as a national federation different from the role you play externally, i.e. nationally and internationally; how do you present yourselves as a federation to the rest of the world? Can you give an example?
The processing of personal data by the KNLTB does not take place on an international level.
Nevertheless, there may be an exchange of data that is necessary for the practice of top sport or for the training of professionals. In that context, we have noticed (to our surprise) that other countries act according different standards. This is of course strange because the GDPR should be a uniform legislation. The interpretation of the GDPR followed in the Netherlands is not applied in other countries and that complicates collaboration with international associations or federations. Obviously privacy should be held to the highest standards, but only when applied in a uniform matter.
“The AP has fined the sports and its members, not the KNLTB.”
Question 4) Of course, we are not going to beat around the bush. At the end of 2019, you received a hefty fine from the Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens; AP) for providing personal data of KNLTB members to two partners of the KNLTB, which is in breach of the GDPR according to the Dutch Data Protection Authority. How do you view both the appeal case and the fine of the AP?
The KNLTB was under the assumption that we followed the ‘royal’ ways by following a guideline from the AP itself. In a meeting with the AP the KNLTB mentioned several times we would gladly receive instructions and explanation from the AP. In October 2018, the AP started an investigation about the sharing of data by the KNLTB with two partners. This differs from other procedures in which a standard-transferring letter and/or a standard-transferring conversation was first used in the event of an alleged violation.
Nevertheless, the KNLTB has always cooperated fully openly and transparently in the investigation. The research turned out to be very time-consuming (14 months) and had a major impact on the organization. Unfortunately, the KNLTB has had to conclude on several occasions that the supervisor acted very carelessly and unreliably (biased), with serious consequences. During the procedure, the KNLTB has already submitted a complaint about this, which was declared well-founded by both the AP and the National Ombudsman.
In October 2019, during a consultation with the board of the AP, the KNLTB expressed its concern about the conduct of the AP and its harmful consequences. During this conversation, the chairman of the AP indicated that he wanted to take into account the unique position of sports associations in the Netherlands and the explicit expectation was expressed that the KNLTB would not receive an ‘extreme fine’. Despite this promise, the KNLTB was imposed an administrative fine of Euro 525,000 in December 2019. The AP has fined the sports and its members, not the KNLTB.
In the interest of sport in general and tennis (and padel) in particular, the KNLTB has opposed the AP decision and the resulting fine and the way in which it was determined. In doing so, we base ourselves on the interpretation of the GDPR (with regard to legitimate interest) and on the General Principles of Good Governance (ABBB: principle of confidentiality, principle of legal certainty, principle of equality, principle of due care and principle of motivation). The KNLTB feels strengthened by the recent ruling in the case of VoetbalTV.
Question 5) How do things stand today? What has changed and/or improved?
Apart from the direct financial and image damage to the KNLTB, this ruling by the AP has far-reaching consequences for all athletes, all sports associations and all sports associations in the Netherlands. Members can to a lesser extent benefit from added value through collaboration with partners, which will make the practice of their sport more expensive. In addition, the sponsorship proposition of sports associations will irrevocably devalue, endangering the support of associations.
The KNLTB is careful and reserved, because the procedure has had such an impact on the organization and unpredictable authority. Legal certainty has declined and the KNLTB strongly hopes that in the future clearer guidelines on the use of personal data for marketing in the sport will be published. There is therefore more regular consultation with other associations and experts. As mentioned, the KNLTB thinks it’s important that members have control over their own data, so the KNLTB has maintained the level of control for members and made information more accessible.
“The KNLTB feels strengthened by the recent ruling in the case of VoetbalTV.”
Question 6) Every disadvantage has its advantage. Despite the fact that the disadvantage first faced the KNLTB, the KNLTB as well as many other parties and companies can learn from it. Focus on the future. What does this future look like for the tennis federation regarding data, privacy and thereby of course for the sport itself?
We are confident that we will come out stronger. The KNLTB tries to develop products with our partners to make the jobs of our volunteers easier. As an organisation, the KNLTB continues to process processes, so that privacy by design is a structural part of the KNLTB organization and tennis and padel in the Netherlands.
And as for the sport itself, we and all tennis and padel fans will always continue to do what we enjoy most and the KNLTB will continue to make sure that everyone can keep doing so.
About the author
Robert Jan Schumacher is the Director of Services at the Koninklijke Nederlandse Lawn Tennis Bond (KNLTB). Robert Jan has been working for the tennis federation for almost ten years now. He started as Head of Communications. After four and a half years he became Director of Services.