David Owen

The first set of 2020 financial statements from a Summer Olympic International Federation (IF) landed last week.

As it happened, it came from the biggest beast in this particular jungle - the international football body, FIFA.

These accounts are often surprisingly revealing, but they promise to make especially absorbing reading this year.

This is because, of course, they cover the period when sport was stopped in its tracks for the first time since the 1940s by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The traumatic jolt to the revenue-line that this largely unforeseeable catastrophe has administered will, I fancy, expose a number of home truths which this relatively successful but overly self-satisfied industry would do well to learn from.

To my mind, the new FIFA document highlighted two such home truths.

The ramifications of both extend well beyond football - at least, they should do.

The first I have already written about: it is that while sports were stopped in their tracks by the pandemic, esports were not. Rather the opposite.

Whether you are a fan of video gaming or not (on the whole, I am not), the corollary of this should be obvious.

We are not at a crossroads: FIFA is not going to earn more from video games than football every year from now on, or anything like it.

However, the fact that it should have done so in any year is remarkable.

Expenses relating to FIFA's 2019 Congress, in Paris, came to $23.3 million ©Getty Images
Expenses relating to FIFA's 2019 Congress, in Paris, came to $23.3 million ©Getty Images

The time has plainly come for the arbiters of physical sports to stop dithering and decide what actions to take to give themselves a sporting chance of deriving some benefit from what has become an important, exhilarating and fulfilling feature of many young people's lives.

The second home truth relates to information disclosed in Note 9 of the FIFA financial statements.

This revealed that expenses relating to the governing body’s annual Congress and committees nosedived by the small matter of 83.6 per cent, from just under $26.5 million (£19.2 million/€22.3 million) in 2019 to just $4.34 million (£3.15 million/€3.65 million) last year.

The accompanying commentary is well worth reproducing here.

"For the first time ever, the FIFA Congress took place as an online event in 2020, using a virtual platform to address football delegates all over the world," the document explained.

"As a result, there was no travel involving the committee members and official delegates of the 211 member associations, the six confederations or the other guests of the Congress."

The costs of the annual FIFA Congress thus decreased accordingly to $1.1 million (£797,500/€925,000) (2019: $19.4 million (£14.1 million/€16.3 million)) and the related travel and accommodation expenses fell to $400,000 (£290,000/€337,000) (2019: $3.9 million (£2.83 million/€3.28 million)).

So, if you narrow the focus solely to the cost of 2020’s online Congress and related expenses compared with 2019’s traditional meet-and-greet-style event in Paris, the scale of the savings escalates even further to a frankly mind-blowing 93.6 per cent.

Given that the money spent on traditional single-location events could otherwise be earmarked for good works, is it possible for IFs and other globe-straddling bodies such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to justify not moving all such meetings online forthwith in what IOC President Thomas Bach likes to call the "post-coronavirus world"?

Might future FIFA Congresses only be held in-person when coinciding with a World Cup? ©Getty Images
Might future FIFA Congresses only be held in-person when coinciding with a World Cup? ©Getty Images

Actually, yes it is: periodic human contact among peers remains essential if the administrative machinery underpinning international sport is to continue to function even half adequately.

However, is it essential in a world populated by tech innovators such as Lumi and Zoom for sports organisations to stage face-to-face meetings of their respective governing bodies every year, or sometimes more regularly?

Given that magnitude of cost differential, absolutely not.

If most representatives are going to use their platform on these occasions to try to back up or otherwise please the leadership, as sadly seems to be the fashion these days, then why fly them halfway around the world and accommodate them in five star hotels in order to do so?

As for operation of the democratic process, I would argue that online elections might even be preferable if they help to distance voters from intensive lobbying and hence encourage them to exercise their independent judgement.

So - idea - future Congresses, Sessions and similar should be face-to-face when they coincide in time and place with World Championships, Olympic Games, World Cups and the like, and online when they do not.

For anyone disagreeing with this principle, well, the onus should be on them to explain exactly how the consequences of meeting face-to-face will be so wonderful, so glorious as to justify - based on these FIFA numbers - a 15-fold cost mark-up.

The list of benefits that can be chalked up to the appalling scourge of COVID-19 is, let's face it, pretty short.

But exposing the magnitude of the waste associated with swanky face-to-face Congresses should definitely be on it.