When it all started in Paris back in 1904, there were only seven FIFA members and, as footballers and gentlemen, they took their decisions by a show of hands. These days members number 207. They come from all over the world and speak over 100 different languages. Consequently, for the first time in its hundred-year history, the FIFA Congress used an electronic voting system during its session in Marrakesh in place of the green and red cards traditionally brandished by the delegates.
"With so many voters, the job of the scrutineers had become nigh-on impossible," explains Corina Luck, the head of FIFA's Legal Department. "The margin for error resulting from the manual vote was growing with every admission of a new member association, as counting dozens of red cards in a row in just a few seconds is quite a challenge, both arithmetically and visually!"
FIFA had been considering the electronic vote for quite some time, but it was legally necessary to modify the statutes of world football's governing body in order to permit the implementation of such a system. By ratifying the new statutes in 2003, the Doha (Qatar) Congress paved the way for this development and when the Executive Committee confirmed it in December 2004, the "electronic voting" project could begin in earnest.
"As trendy as it is, electronic voting is first and foremost about technology, security and organisation," explains FIFA lawyer Paola Muller. In January 2005, she and Corina began by defining the system's functional specifications:
· Possibility of organising ballots on the basis of different quorums
· Ease of use for the delegates
· Technological security (no possibility of the system being hacked into and vote results changed)
Once these principal requirements had been established, FIFA launched a call for tenders. Next, it was on to the deployment phase for extensive testing, before the grand première at Marrakesh on Monday 12 September 2005.
As they entered the Salle Vizirs at the Hotel Kempinsky, each delegation (made up of three association directors, generally the chairman, general secretary and treasurer) was issued with an electronic voting terminal in return for an official signature. The instructions were detailed in the documents handed to each of them, but to make absolutely certain that everything went smoothly, a demonstration was also given before the opening of the ballots.
With a green button for Yes, a red button for No and a Yellow button to abstain, the system is simple to use, and if a user does accidentally press the wrong button, he or she can correct the error instantly before dropping the correct electronic slip in the virtual urn, as each vote remains open for precisely fifteen seconds.
The information emanating from the terminals is transmitted by radio waves (on a secure frequency) and detected by dozens of receiving antennas distributed around the Congress hall. It is then sent immediately to the central computer, which compiles the different votes, before the result is validated by Heinz Tännler, FIFA's Legal Director. A few seconds after the vote, the results are displayed on the giant screen.
With the delegates then said to have "Voted", the next matter is submitted for their approval.
With 3 ballots held this Monday, the electronic voting system passed its first exam with flying colours at the FIFA Congress and will now be used every year, starting with the 2006 edition in Munich next June.