COMMENTARY

E-watchdog highlights need for football reform

Football Leaks has hit the mainstream. The website, set up last September to "increase transparency in the game", has enjoyed a series of coups in recent weeks, publishing the transfer agreement that brought Anthony Martial to Manchester United and the contract of Gareth Bale with Real Madrid.

Whatever one's view on Football Leaks and its methods, there can be no doubt that it is right to call for greater transparency. Agents and other assorted leeches find their niche in the subterfuge of the modern game. Fans have a right to know how much clubs are paying for players, how much is siphoned off in brokerage fees and other activities that might sound alarm bells. This information should be brought out of the shadows and into the cold light of day.

We need to know about the "scouting agreements" and "intermediary agreements" that clubs, particularly on the continent, are using to get around the ban on third-party influence. We need to know about cases where agents get an automatic £1 million (S$2.02 million) payment when a player gets transferred. We need to know about the subtle quid pro quos that exist in the small print and sub-clauses. Otherwise, how can clubs and agents be properly policed?

The problem, of course, is that secrecy in football starts at the very top. It is not only the clubs who lack openness, but also the governing bodies who are supposed to be policing them. A report by Transparency International, a campaigning organisation that fights corruption, examined all 209 FAs around the world, as well as the continental federations. It wanted to establish whether the minimum conditions for transparency were in place: Do these organisations publish financial accounts? Do they report on their activities? Do they have statutes? Do they have codes of conduct?

The results were farcical. Even with such a low bar, football entirely flunked the test of modernity. It was found that 81 per cent of the 209 countries that receive funding from Fifa do not publish any accounts, including nations such as Chile, Colombia and France, all ranked in the top 25 of the world. On the four criteria of openness measured, an astonishing 42 per cent of the member associations scored zero points - in other words, they don't publish any relevant information.

Fans have a right to know how much clubs are paying for players, how much is siphoned off in brokerage fees and other activities that might sound alarm bells. This information should be brought out of the shadows and into the cold light of day.

It is this dearth of transparency that has allowed corruption at the top of the game to fester, and explains so much of the chicanery and venality that afflicts club football. But it also hints at the structural problem facing the game: How can one expect the authorities to compel clubs to share information when they are themselves opaque?

Football Leaks told me: "We are fighting for the sake of the sport, but we can't change anything on our own. (We need a) new transfer system, a limited action for agents and investment funds, and a public database with all the transfer details and wages. If Fifa wants to give credibility back to football, they should really think about this."

It is a cogent argument, and one that may finally be having an impact upon those at the top. Just last week, Mark Goddard, head of Fifa's transfer matching system, said: "It would be really good if we could have a verifiable, transparent, credible source as opposed to just back pages, and the soccer leaks website."

But will Fifa make the necessary changes? Will it create the reforms that can bring openness to football? The sad truth is that it is only when Fifa is ready to be open and honest about its own inner workings that it will have the impetus and credibility to demand change from the wider game.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'E-watchdog highlights need for football reform'. Print Edition | Subscribe