Fifa election: The one reform which might actually make a difference

The next president is unlikely to be a ‘new broom’ but one reform to be voted on today could change world football forever

Sheikh Salman or Gianni Infantino? That is likely to be the choice offered to delegates at today’s Fifa Extraordinary Congress.

As you have probably read, neither are exactly the ‘new broom’ that the organisation needs. In fact, today’s best hope of radical will be voted on before the presidential ballot.

Prior to deciding which new suit is going to sit in the big chair, delegates will vote on whether to approve a set of reforms and one, in particular, could change world football forever.

What’s in the reform package?

The reforms, drawn up by the 2016 Fifa Reform Committee, include presidential term limits, the disclosure of executive salaries and the formation of the Fifa Council, the 36-member body which will replace the Executive Committee.

These, and pretty much every other recommended reform, are reasonable proposals which would bring greater transparency, accountability and democracy to a rotten and compromised organisation.

In order to pass, they need approval from 75 per cent of the 207 national associations able to vote (two others, Kuwait and Indonesia, are suspended for ‘political interference’) and in all likelihood, they will get it.

There is, however, one reform hidden away at towards the end of the document, a mere bullet point in article 14, which would not have received approval from 75 per cent of the associations were this a congress in any other year, under any former president, amid a different political context.

What is it?

It reads: “Statutes of Fifa members, and of Confederations, must contain certain minimum provisions in order to guarantee, amongst other matters…The provision of annual independent audits of financial statements.”

OK, but what does that mean?

It means that, every year, every member association (e.g. the FA, the SFA, the FAI) and confederation (e.g. UEFA, CONCACAF, etc.) associated with Fifa will have to allow independent accountants to investigate how they spend and make their money and then publish the findings.

If they do not, they risk losing Fifa’s recognition.

In the past, members would have cried foul, claiming that such transparency infringed on their independence. Today, they are likely to vote for it en masse.

But why is it important?

It is a basic but essential step towards financial transparency, which itself is the primary defence against corruption.

What difference would it make?

Imagine you are in charge of handing out Fifa money for development projects or humanitarian matters.

Let’s also imagine that you yourself are not corrupt, that you still possess an endearing naivety about the world of football governance and you trust that, when people say they are going to use money for a specific legitimate reason, they mean it.

So, you give money to an association, only for that association to hijack the money and divert it to, say, its president’s personal bank account.

This, in theory, should stop that. It at least establishes a significant deterrent, as each association's accounts will be public knowledge and it would only take one bitter journalist with a grudge to expose the wrongdoing.

Is it really necessary?

Yes.

Non-governmental organisation Transparency International surveyed all 209 member associations following last year’s football governance scandals, assessing each on four ‘good governance’ criteria: codes of conduct or ethics, organisation charter, annual activity reports and, crucially, publication of financial reports.

Only 41 were found to have publicly available, independently audited annual financial reports. The other 168 did not.

Worse still, only 14 associations met all four of Transparency International’s criteria. Congratulations, then, to Canada, Denmark, England, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Ireland and Sweden.

For everyone else, there’s work to do. Once the package of reforms passes today, they'll have to get started.

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