By Carlos Martin Tornero & Vincent Huck.

Rome, Italy (WCOA 2014). The 19th World Congress of Accountants (WCOA 2014) held in Rome kicked off with 4,000 participants from 140 delegations, which have prompted some to nickname the event "the Olympics of the profession".

The WCOA was first held in St. Louis, US, in 1904 and has since then been held every four years, each time in a different city and with a different theme.

The WCOA 2014 theme is 2020 Vision -focus from the past, building the future. In his welcome address at the opening ceremony, Consiglio Nazionale dei Dottori Commercialisti e degli Esperti contabili president Gerardo Longobardi said: "This year the Congress is dedicated to the relationship between the past and the future […] which past experiences need to be considered? What kind of a future do we want to build? And for whom? These are the major questions that need to be answered."

To that effect during four days participants will debate on three main issues: the access to credit, taxation and accountability in the public and private sector.

In his welcome address IFAC outgoing president Warren Allen said: "I’ve heard this event referred to as the Olympics of accounting.
But unlike the Olympics the World Congress of Accountants is about collaboration and not competition."

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But in some ways walking down the corridors of the Auditorium Parco Della Musica, where the event is held, does feel like a similar experience to visiting the Olympic Park with a host of languages spoken and a diversity of cultural attires from the traditional suit and tie to the Boubou (west African attire) and the Deel (Mongolian traditional dress).

Nigeria brought the largest delegation to the congress and before the official opening of the WCOA 2014 delegates showed their support to their Nigerian colleagues by observing a minute of silence for the 46 victims from a bombing in a school in the North East of the country, believed to be the latest attack by Boko Haram.

The second largest delegation comes from the host country, Italy, with over 500 delegates. A number of countries are represented by more than 100 professionals such as Brazil, China, Japan, Ghana, Malaysia, Mongolia, UK and the USA.

Allen compared the inaugural congress, held in St Louis 110 years ago and attended by 81 delegates, to the current attendance.
"Our accounts are accurate: More than 3,900 delegates from 140 countries," he said.

He went on to make a reference to the causes that led to the decline of the ancient Roman Empire: economic troubles, public sector overspending and government corruption. "More than 500 year on those issues seem to be present nowadays," he said.

Nations are still in recession after the debt crisis, he said, and the threat of corruption stemming from "shadowy and secret dealings" remains in place.

Allen called for greater transparency in the public sector to fight governments’ corruption, which is a task not only for accountants but for the global business community.

He concluded his keynote speech paraphrasing the adage "all roads lead to Rome". On this occasion, he said, all those roads lead "from" Rome, in reference to challenges ahead for the profession, this congress being the starting point.