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Transparency in football: Is technology the answer?

In the first of a series of articles, Jesper Frederiksen, VP EMEA at DocuSign, looks at the technology that is bringing transparency to the business behind the beautiful game.

With so much money washing around in modern football it can be easy to forget the importance of being totally honest with the paying public.

The elite of the game can become so far detached from the grass roots that it is no longer clear how transparent the game actually is.

Yet, there are opportunities for technology to bring the beautiful game back for those who support it.

Real Madrid d’or Barcelona?

Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? That’s the question which has permeated the FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony since its inception in 2010.

For those who aren’t aware, the Ballon d'Or is an annual football award given by FIFA to the male player considered to have performed the best in the previous calendar year. Ronaldo took the honours this month but still falls behind the overall (and three-time) winner Messi.

Whilst few would argue that these two players aren’t the top footballers in the world, questions regularly arise on the voting process behind the awards.

National team managers and captains, as well as media pundits, are given the opportunity to vote, with the voting data released to us eagle-eyed fans who are keen to see who Roy Hodgson has (controversially) picked.

This openness behind the voting allows for greater discussion and debate on who the footballing elite view as the best player in the world; transparency which fans adore.

Deadline Day gets Messi

So how does this transparency translate in other areas of the beautiful game?

Aside from the glitz and glamour of the Ballon d’Or, things can get pretty intense in the cut and thrust of the transfer market, especially when technological solutions are shunned for traditional, outdated methods of doing business.

We have two transfer windows in the Premier League, making things fairer for smaller clubs; rich clubs can no longer just buy a new player in after a string of bad results. Like the minnows, the sharks must make do with what they have.

It may seem great so far, but what happens as the window closes on deadline day?

The FIFA TMS, an online system for the management of international transfers, was introduced to increase transparency by tackling money laundering or corruption in trades from abroad.

On deadline day, however, things get a bit murkier.

When registering a player, clubs must send the Premier League all documents relating to the transfer. This paperwork includes contracts, work permits, transfer agreements, medical documentation and international clearances.

The nature of deadline day sees many trades going through in the last hour as clubs seek the maximum advantage from transfers.

Clubs await cash flows to ease up from player purchases and trades, and wait to see which rival club suddenly makes a player available. It can all get very busy, very quickly.

The sheer influx of paperwork leaves office administrators rushing to and from their fax machines trying to process player documentation before the window closes.

Fax machines, hardly the most reliable piece of equipment, are prone to breakdown or error. When was the last time you sent a fax? Signatures need to be clearly marked and in all the correct fields in order to avoid a ‘Not In Good Order’ contract being sent back for completion again.

With the deadline minutes away, clubs have historically missed signing a player as all of this paperwork isn’t put through in time. In the mad rush to get these deals over the line, how much attention is paid to transparency when it comes to receiving all required signatures?

What is to stop an agent halting a trade at the last minute to seek better offers by failing to sign the paperwork?


Fortunately, technology exists to eradicate this problem.

Digital Transaction Management (DTM) technology allows all the paperwork to be processed digitally. Why print the contract when you can receive it electronically, sign it and send it back from the touch of a screen?

DTM can allow clubs to monitor who is signing the necessary documents and at what time they have done so. From your mobile device you can check who is holding up a trade by not signing, and give them the necessary update.

Players and agents can easily provide all legal documents through secure software to all the required parties.

The way forward is clear. Let’s see FIFA get transparent, ditch the fax and bring technology to the boardroom.


Jesper Frederiksen
Jesper Frederiksen, Okta’s GM for EMEA, spent four years prior to Okta with DocuSign, leading the company’s expansion across EMEA as VP and GM. Before that, Jesper held leadership roles at Parallels, Symantec, Google and NetIQ.