Interview by Hal Robson-Kanu: West Brom striker by day, blockchain businessman by night


Thomas Robson-Kanu, known to the football world as "Hal", is explaining exactly what is "blockchain". With patience and precision, it moves through the basic definitions towards more advanced concepts. What is the crypto-currency? What is a smart contract? What is the network effect? What distinguishes BitCoin from LiteCoin, or DigiByte from Ethereum?

If Robson-Kanu was not such a good player, he could have lost his vocation as an IT teacher. He certainly has enthusiasm for his subject and the ability to explain it to those who – like this interviewer – know less about him. Most players have their own private enthusiasm, but not many can talk about it this way.

As we all know, by day Robson-Kanu is a striker, athletic striker. He is an immortal in the history of Welsh football for the goals against Slovakia and Belgium at Euro 2016 two years ago. He plays for West Bromwich Albion, and his season began on Saturday, when West Brom dropped to Bolton Wanderers, their first game in the league. Robson-Kanu is fit and does not see the campaign coming.

Hal Robson-Kanu during the West The opening of the Brom season against Bolton (Getty Images)

But at night, or rather in the afternoon, Robson-Kanu is a blockchain businessman. When West Brom's training ends at lunchtime, he goes down to London, sees his family, and then goes to his office in Chiswick. Where he works until 9:00 pm on "Sports Ledger", the blockchain-based sports data sharing platform that his team has developed over the past two years. "Many athletes have other interests: some of my teammates end up playing FIFA at 12.30 at night."

That's why Robson-Kanu is here, drinking coffee at Mayfair this week, talking about his "private passion" for blockchain technology and why he's so excited to take it to as many people as possible. So what's exactly?

"Blockchain is basically a distributive ledger, where no trusted intermediary is needed," explains Robson-Kanu. "So imagine it as an internet, but an internet where you can exchange peer-to-peer value Now we have internet, but I could not send someone £ 10 without requiring an intermediary, [like PayPal]. But with blockchain, it allows you to communicate, exchange between them, in a digital peer-to-peer world.It's simplistic how I can give it.This is what is blockchain. "

Hal Robson-Kanu during a friendly pre-season in Barnet (Getty Images)

This is not an easy topic to understand, especially considering how many of us prefer to use technology rather than learning how it works. "Not many people understand blockchain technology," says Robson-Kanu. "It's like trying to explain how the Internet works, but nobody cares how the Internet works, and no one understands how the Internet works, they just know they're using it – that's what will happen with blockchain technology."

Robson-Kanu to go so far ahead of the rest of the population while he was making his way into the Premier League with the rest of his time? Always a brilliant student at school, Robson-Kanu left the Twyford Church of England High School with a series of A * s at the GCSE. "I just had an active mind," he says. "Once I got something for me it was easy to race with it."

Robson-Kanu grew up with friends who were fascinated with technology, apps and programming, and that meant he was too. At the beginning of this decade they started talking to him about bitcoins. And, in the beginning, he was skeptical. "In 2011, 2012, I did not really entertain", Robson-Kanu looks back. "Because I looked at the mainstream narrative about it, it was" illicit business, drugs, insecure. "So I went around it for a good two years, after which I came back, due to the price increase [Bitcoin] from $ 10 to $ 15 up to $ 40. I was intrigued by how this technology, or its digital heritage, could have grown so significantly, so I went further, read the Bitcoin White Paper, and started interact with the blockchain community, and I immediately realized that this is the future: the ability to decentralize and dis-intermediate all forms of communication in the world … in a peer-to-peer way, without a central authority, revolutionary. "

An avid reader, Robson-Kanu began to learn about blockchain and Bitcoin. He read "Digital Money" by Andreas Antonopoulous, the great blockchain and lawyer expert, and went to see him speak at the "Wired Money: Beyond Bitcoin" conference. "He makes you understand, which is a difficult thing to do because it can be quite complex," says Antonopoulous. Robson-Kanu read the great innovators of the blockchain space, such as Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, or Charlie Lee, founder of LiteCoin.

Robson-Kanu was impressed by these crypto-currencies and by the way they made large settlements easier between two parties because they did not need transaction fees. "The reason Bitcoin was created was destined for large settlements," he says. "This is peer to peer, it is so significant in terms of the economic model our company is based on because we rely on the central authority and the intermediaries."

But learning and understanding do not they have never been enough. Robson-Kanu decided he wanted to get involved alone. He wanted to build something using blockchain technology that would encourage further use. "Our biggest thing is adoption," says Robson-Kanu. "How can we contribute to the adoption of blockchain technology? As I explained before, these are cases of use.We can we provide a service that instantly delivers houses of use in the blockchain space? We would be just a few that would deliver it. "

Hal Robson-Kanu after his famous goal against Belgium at Euro 2016 (Getty Images)

Robson-Kanu compares the current blockchain market with the state of the Internet in 1993. When there were still opportunities for the "first adopters" who moved into space before they did their rivals. "Now we move from the innovators to the first users and they will be applications of use cases, simplified versions, then the first majority, the late majority, then the latecomers, and the latecomers are like our grandparents who are buying the iPhone now Show how much we are still in space and we are talking about less than 1% of the global population Imagine what will happen when it will be 20, 30, 40% of the global population. "

So two years ago, Robson-Kanu , his brother David, the childhood friend and developer Bozidar Ijacic and the German blockchain expert Fabian Kippenberg decided to launch a blockchain-based sports application. At the beginning of last year they invented the name "Sports Ledger", and the application will be gradually implemented by the second quarter of 2019 onwards.

The idea is for an ambitious data sharing and interaction platform. It will gather sports data from around the world, allow users to make comparisons and make predictions. It will also have a social sharing platform, in which the user's preferences will create for them an "enriched digital identity", to which advertisers would like to access. So far, so Facebook.

But Robson-Kanu hopes that Sports Ledger will be different. Because the peer-to-peer nature of blockchain means that users will retain ownership of their data, rather than giving it all to someone else.

Robson-Kanu : "If you do not have control over your data, it can always be manipulated" (Getty)

"If you look at traditional social sharing content platforms – Facebook, Instagram – the reality is that they completely own your data," explains Robson-Kanu. "When we check out that box, when we sign up – most people never read it – you give it full ownership, and even complete the rights to communicate on Facebook and Instagram." The whole business model is based on the use of user data, to sell them to advertisers and to allow advertisers to communicate with them. "

This problem was clearly highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where the firm's political consultancy had access to data of 87 million Facebook users. For Robson-Kanu, this is proof of why blockchain platforms are so important. Because they allow users to keep control of their data, rather than sending it to anyone else.

"The fact that it happened, shows that there is a problem with data ownership," he says. "If you are not in control of your data, it can always be manipulated, you should have your complete data, I should be the owner of my complete data, this is the way it should be, but because of our current structures, there is no platform or foundation that allows it, but now we have the opportunity to do so. "

With Sports Ledger, therefore, external companies should communicate with users to request access: "Since the application is decentralized, each user has complete ownership of their data," he explains. "If you want to view a user's data profile, you need to request access." It fully complies with the GDPR. "

Eventually Robson-Kanu wants the Ledger sport to improve the connections between clubs and fans and even keep biometric data from athletes' training from all over the world, information that has never been public. "Most blockchain fans have a bias for transparency," he explains. "They feel that everything should be open and available for access".

Now everything seems far enough but with the growth of blockchain and crypto-currency, these technologies will become more present in our lives. "We are on the edge of mass adoption," says Robson-Kanu. "We are moving, we have overcome the network effect with blockchain technology.Once a certain level of users and awareness is surpassed, it will continue to grow to become mainstream.Therefore there is no way to cancel it".

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