The New Accounting Convention: FIFA

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The New Accounting Convention: FIFA

I used to be an accountant, but I’m alright now. Turned out I had one too many personalities: 1.

There are lots of conventions in accounting, but if you think it’s a science simply because it involves numbers then you couldn’t be more wrong. You must have heard this one: I asked my accountant what the profits were and he said “what do you want them to be?” It’s an art.

Accountants are also misunderstood when it comes to what they must do. They are obliged to minimise their clients’ tax liabilities. So when Starbucks pay no tax it’s the fault of government/s for leaving loopholes. Most of the events that have stirred people to moan in recent years have been failures in policy, but others have gotten the blame, most notably bankers. I say ‘moan’ because usually they’re neither offering a viable solution, nor any evidence of a real understanding of the problem’s root. Loads of things represent failure in government policy: the existence of most charities, increasing inequality, the lack of many cancer cures, the lack of effective job sharing, etc.

There are plenty of things that have to be ‘hidden’ in accounts, for all manner of reasons. For example, I used to work for a supermarket group and very senior executives submitted business expense claims that included entertainment, such as hookers. One way to hide that sort of thing could be to show you gave those concerned per diems, daily amounts that cover sundry expenses. That way they’re not itemised. Job done. It’s an art.

Some jobs include as a matter of course, offering sweeteners to people along the way. This applies everywhere to some extent, more in certain jurisdictions than others, but countries like the US make it illegal for any American to offer bribes anywhere in the world for any reason. You may not even need to be American to fall foul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977. Meanwhile, it remains practically impossible to do business in half the world’s nations without bribes!

And so to the FIFA bribes. Who really thinks sport is squeaky clean? And, by the way, it’s sport! Who gives a monkeys? I’ve noticed that snooker matches are so tight these days that they rather conveniently make great television of just about the right length. Is that really because all the players are so closely matched? Or is there a culture of ‘entertainment’ in the game? And why would I care?

To think that there isn’t bribery rife in sport when you consider the amounts of money involved is naïve. “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.” The words of Balzac. Why do we think any industry at all is squeaky clean? If bribery wasn’t illegal, or at least so illegal, then perhaps we’d have a clearer idea what’s actually going on! According to a survey in 2012 by Ernst & Young, 15% of top executives are willing to pay bribes in order to keep or win business. And even in government? Don’t think for a moment that big companies can’t negotiate their corporation tax bills behind closed doors, or that your own government isn’t doing something decidedly ‘bribey’ today that won’t surface for 50 years. It’s an art.

Incidentally, in case you’re not familiar with the acronym, FIFA stands for Financial Inducement Freely Available.

The way the authorities are handling this, a (mis)quote springs to mind: “they do protest too much, methinks”. Perhaps a closer look at the detractors is worthwhile. We need to wake up, smell the coffee, and presume that someone, somewhere, is receiving a bribe while we’re drinking it. If you ask me “what kind of world do we live in?” I shall reply “what kind of world would you like to pretend we live in?”

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