Amid FIFA’s worst scandal in its 111-year history, one man is toiling to dismantle the governing body’s corrupt and abusive power structure.
Domenico Scala, a 50-year-old Swiss businessman and independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, is leading the soccer body’s restructuring efforts, even as Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s lame-duck president, holds on through the end of the year during a U.S. Justice Department corruption probe. The question is what can Scala really hope to accomplish?
FIFA is now fully into a crisis that took down Blatter and threatens the future of the organization that owns the World Cup, which generated almost all of the ruling body’s $5 billion revenue over four years through the 2014 edition. Scala, who has had his job as FIFA’s independent compliance officer for three years, is open to criticism that more could have been done.
Yet he sees the widening corruption investigation into racketeering, money laundering and tax evasion as an empowering moment. Scala wants to overhaul FIFA’s executive committee and impose term limits on its presidency, suggesting a maximum of three terms of four years. The goal is to ensure there will never be another Blatter-like power broker or a repeat of decades of bribery and corruption.
“Certain individuals have taken advantage of their position, which they held for far too long, to enrich themselves,” Scala said in an e-mail, referring to members of FIFA’s executive committee.
It has taken FIFA’s worst scandal to convince those who had given up on FIFA ever changing that reforms will finally happen. Even so, Scala will have to convince a majority of FIFA’s 209 member nations to go along, the very Congress that has supported Blatter for 17 years.
“I do believe with the pressure on, they will now accept some of these reforms,” said Michael Hershman, co-founder of Transparency International, part of a group that suggested previous FIFA reforms and was ignored.
Still, Hershman is critical of Scala not being more vocal in the past.
“I haven’t heard his independent voice speaking out against the failure to enact the governance committee’s recommendations,” said Hershman. “Now all of a sudden he’s speaking out. Where has he been?”
Scala rejected Hershman’s criticism, saying he’s long been vocal on FIFA’s need to reform, including in an interview with Bloomberg in 2014 and with two major newspapers in his native Switzerland.
“I simply rebut the criticism expressed by Michael Hershman,” he said.
FIFA’s moment of reckoning was a long time coming. Blatter’s presidency brought billions of dollars to FIFA’s bank accounts, a windfall perhaps too tempting for officials to ignore. Last month’s indictment in the U.S. against 14 soccer and marketing officials finally brought the house that Blatter built crashing down. Everything is now in question amid a criminal investigation that includes the controversial decision to choose Russia and Qatar as host countries for the next two World Cups.
The sight of seven officials, including two FIFA vice presidents, being arrested in dawn raids was one storm too many for Blatter to escape. His replacement will be elected at an emergency Congress to be held between December and February. Detailed plans will follow a specially convened meeting on July
For now, Scala and a team of advisers from outside FIFA are preparing reforms that target the executive committee. He’s tried without success to tackle the group before, describing them in an interview last year as FIFA’s “biggest risk.”
Scala said the committee could be reduced from 24 members to the president and heads of the six regional groups. That would make each official more accountable. He’s also advocating for independent oversight, similar to the functions carried out by non-executive directors at publicly traded companies. He’s also suggested term limits for regional and national soccer bosses as a condition of getting a post at FIFA.
With investigators on both sides of the Atlantic probing world soccer operations, Scala’s efforts have gained greater urgency. His proposals mirror those of the outgoing president’s biggest critics, including German soccer head Wolfgang Niersbach, among the newest members of FIFA’s top brass. And with longstanding sponsors such as Coca Cola Co. and Adidas AG threatening to sever ties to FIFA, paying lip service to fundamental change is no longer an option.
In his business career, Scala has served as the chief executive officer of Nobel Biocare Holding AG, which was listed on the Swiss stock exchange during his tenure. That experience has helped him cope with being thrust into the spotlight by the FIFA scandal, he said.
Blatter, 79, has been at FIFA for 40 years, and in one of the top two positions since 1981. Critics including Niersbach and English Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke, as well as the European Parliament, say he should step down immediately.
“The urgent reforms required cannot begin in earnest until a new leadership is appointed,” the 28-nation European Parliament said in a non-binding resolution approved on Thursday in Strasbourg, France.
Scala is ambivalent on the subject.
For more, read this QuickTake: World Cup Corruption
“Not my call,” he said, preferring to focus on the work of fixing a broken, discredited organization.