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FIFA financial watchdog to monitor 2015 election

March 21, 2014

ZURICH (AP) — When the FIFA presidential election campaigns get going, the governing body’s financial watchdog will be keeping a close eye on everyone.

No more $1 million grants, like the one Sepp Blatter handed over to the CONCACAF regional body last time, will go by without provoking an ethics investigation.

“That would not work anymore,” Domenico Scala told The Associated Press in an interview.

Scala, speaking ahead of the publishing of FIFA’s annual financial report on Friday, was appointed in 2012 to lead a modernized audit panel ordered by Blatter after wide-ranging scandals tainted World Cup hosting votes and the president’s own re-election.

Scala also cautioned against candidates promising money to confederations and national federations without approval from the FIFA development committee, which allocates spending.

A bitterly fought election in 2011 saw escalating payments and promises from FIFA reserves, which was announced Friday as $1.432 billion.

Scala said such giveaways of FIFA money “will not be possible” before the May 2015 vote.

Last time, FIFA gave $144.4 million in “extraordinary payments” from 2010 World Cup profits — $550,000 to each country and $5 million to each continent — which Blatter described as “a gift to our shareholders.”

Blatter’s election rival, Mohamed bin Hammam, pledged to double annual grants and project funding before he withdrew when implicated in buying votes in the Caribbean.

Bin Hammam was accused of offering $1 million — envelopes of $40,000 to each of 25 CONCACAF members — at a meeting in Trinidad one week after Blatter’s $1 million FIFA promise in Miami.

Blatter has said he will seek re-election if enough of FIFA’s 209 member countries ask him. Other potential candidates are UEFA President Michel Platini — deputy chairman of the development panel — and former FIFA official Jerome Champagne.

Scala said he would help decide a new FIFA president’s contract and salary but cannot change Blatter’s ongoing terms.

“It’s a very normal contract you would expect for a CEO,” said Scala, who was chief executive at dental firm Nobel Biocare Holding AG for four years until 2011.

Scala does the performance review of Blatter’s contract and, although reputation is one aspect, bad publicity at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil marred by street protests will not count against him.

“Public opinion might think it was a failure but economic data say the opposite,” said Scala, pointing to “never, ever better” TV ratings and ticket sales.

However, bonuses for Blatter’s executive committee colleagues were ended in December.

“There was no relationship in logic for them,” Scala said.

Those bonuses were included in “key management personnel” payments in 2013 totaling $36.3 million — more than the $27 million FIFA distributed in project funding through its “Goal” program.

Still, FIFA could afford them as the escalating value of media rights and sponsorship sales defy a stream of negative stories about the 2018 and 2022 World Cup votes for Russia and Qatar, respectively, and the Blatter-bin Hammam rivalry.

American broadcaster Fox paid a four-fold increase for 2018-2022 English language rights over ESPN’s existing deal, Qatar-based Al Jazeera bought the Middle East rights and World Cup ball manufacturer Adidas extended through 2030.

“FIFA will have more money at its disposal,” Scala said. “There will be more projects and this is why it is important to have a strong development committee.”

The 48-year-old industrialist, who also serves on the oversight board at Tufts University in Boston, suggests he had the qualities of being financially literate and confident.

“I have rarely seen CEOs lack self-confidence and I think you need self-confidence in my role,” Scala said, adding that some members simply do not want him there attending their meetings and others did not realize how seriously he would work.

Scala expects to continue through the next FIFA presidential term until 2019 — the likely end of the Blatter era, when the five-term leader would be 83 and a FIFA employee for 44 years.

And Scala expects change to come slowly.

“It is a 100-year-old animal,” Scala said of FIFA, founded in 1904. “Who am I to think I can change it in two years?”

Still, officials in the so-called football family taking undocumented expenses can expect action from FIFA’s judicial bodies, armed with increased independence.

“This is a much tighter governance structure than the IOC or UEFA,” Scala said.

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