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Loughborough University agrees landmark partnership with ethical data science company Signify Group

Loughborough University and Signify Group – a world leader in leveraging AI to combat online abuse and threat – have announced a strategic partnership that will see them collaborate on academic research into online abuse in sport.

Signify has a proven track record in the sector, conducting high-profile projects with leading organisations across international football, rugby, basketball, tennis, cricket, esports, and athletics.

Led by Loughborough University London’s Dr Lauren Burch from the Institute for Sport Business, the agreement includes the formation of a collective working group, dedicated to research and development in this space.

New research will include longitudinal examination of online abuse directed toward various sports stakeholders (e.g. athletes, match officials, organisations, staff), investigation into the link between online and in-stadium abuse, and the implications and practical application of the Online Safety Act 2023.

Colleagues from across the University will work collaboratively with Signify, providing safeguarding recommendations to sports organisations and its athletes. Signify employs Artificial Intelligence to provide online threat monitoring, identification, and analysis services to detect and protect against online abuse and threat in sport.

The partnership will also bring together combined panel presentations at industry conferences, as well as knowledge exchange events with key industry thought leaders and policy makers, building on Dr Burch’s previous research with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on safeguarding and online abuse.

Dr Lauren Burch said: “This valuable partnership will bring together industry-leading expertise in the detection and prevention of online abuse with academic expertise to further examine the mechanisms behind the rise in these types of abuse, leading to impactful and tangible change.”

Jake Marsh, Head of Sport at Signify Group added: “We are delighted to enter this partnership with Loughborough and tap into the University’s renowned academic expertise. Signify’s extensive work in this space makes us a leading authority on combatting online abuse and threat in sport – partnering with Loughborough will allow us to further strengthen our knowledge and capabilities, enhancing the long-term safeguards we aim to provide to athletes, officials and other stakeholders across sport.” 

The partnership includes employment opportunities for Loughborough graduates within Signify’s Sport division with further research initiatives and joint studies planned over the coming months.

Signify’s specialist Threat Matrix service has been activated by organisations including World Athletics, player Unions like FIFPRO and International Federations in multiple sports. With a focus on proactively protecting athletes and officials from online harm, the service is also able to illuminate what the true picture looks like (in terms of volume, type, origin and triggers of abuse) whilst driving real-world action to develop and strengthen deterrents.

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Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/178

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.


About Signify Group 

Founded in 2017, Signify is an ethical data science and artificial intelligence company that uses open-source data to better understand what fans, consumers and the wider public really care about.  Its work spans the business of sport, the private sector, and NGOs with our tech and insights helping organisations to communicate more effectively with those who matter most to them. 

Threat Matrix, which utilises AI and open-source forensic investigation techniques, was launched in 2020 to protect individuals from online abuse. The service has grown and diversified, gaining significant traction in the sports sector. It is used by clubs, leagues, players unions, federations, and global sports event organisers to protect athletes and other stakeholders, as well as being used in investigations and intelligence support.