The FIFA Presidential election has absolutely nothing to do with public support, or indeed media backing. Around two fifths of nine tenths of NOTHING. I reiterate that after an in-depth Talk To Al Jazeera interview to be aired over next few weeks with Prince Ali, the candidate considered the main challenger to Sepp Blatter.
It came after a weeks of nonsense, even by FIFA standards. The bookmaker-backed David Ginola situation was an embarrassing distraction for all those who felt compelled to cover it, and Luis Figo will quickly find out that no amount of star player quality and good intention will matter in the world of football politics, the world of football finance.
The point I really needed to explore with Prince Ali was how specifically he is going to obtain the votes he needs from the 209 member associations.
Because it’s all very well having ideals, ambition and challenging the status quo. But as has been infamously found out by some World Cup bid losers, you need friends and backers in all corners. And those friends and backers need cold, hard incentives, often financial to even consider voting for you. I don’t mean bribes, I mean the prospect that things are not just going to be financially better for their associations, but considerably so.
Which brings us to the other dominant factor of the interview – Sepp Blatter. How exactly, I asked Prince Ali, is he going to gain ground in his own confederation that is publicly backing Blatter? How is he going to penetrate the Blatter stronghold of Africa? Ditto CONCACAF. Even a continent in which he is well supported, Europe, is diluted by the presence of Michael Van Pragg and Figo. But he needs a lot more than European backing.
This may sound like obvious logic but consider how easy it is to speculate about the effect of campaigning, and how difficult it is to actually obtain backing.
The media for once is utterly powerless. Of course I think it’s a good idea for candidates to give interviews. Of course I think it’s a positive thing to get messages out across the globe on a channel like mine. But I am neither arrogant nor foolish enough to think it can change the minds of voting associations. Because it doesn’t affect their finances. This is not cynicism, just realism.
There is on-going talk of sponsors. As in will they lose faith with FIFA? Is THIS where there will finally be enough internal dissatisfaction at the financial prospects to end Blatter’s long reign?
Well it’s an easy assumption that is nowhere near proven. I pointed this out to Prince Ali by asking why he thinks sponsors are not exactly being explicit about losing patience with FIFA. It’s all much more guarded. Why? Well sponsorship of FIFA can mean an ‘in’ to something it’s difficult to lose faith in – World Cup matches watched by massive worldwide audiences.
The FIFA Presidential election is not the ‘X Factor’ or ‘FIFA’s Got Talent’. It is not an external popularity contest. If it was Mr Blatter would almost certainly have been replaced.
And so Prince Ali and the other three presidential hopefuls will be engaging in that most private of activities, the attempt to gain political ground behind closed doors, to persuade the men of FIFA – and they remain mostly men – that they are better off with them.
He has qualities no doubt, and displays more humility than might be anticipated of others with his Royal status. But an image sticks in my mind.
After a week of turbulence around the one-man Presidential election a calm is descending in the gloaming and there is a long blue carpet heading into FIFA’s evening dinner.
I watch as the FIFA members head in. Not just the Executive Committee members who had been in the eye of the storm, these were mainly national association chiefs and their entourages.
I had never really warmed to the tired old cliche ‘the gravy train’ until I saw these people visually representing the analogy.
Do the majority of these FA bosses support Blatter? I thought. Yes.
Do they care it was a one-man election? No.
Do they want the status quo to remain? Yes.
Now a lot has changed within FIFA since then. But does anything really need to change for these Association chiefs? This is a key question for Prince Ali, and the challengers to Mr Blatter.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport