Can next week’s FIFA Presidential election possibly go ahead on schedule as a result of the latest seismic bombshell to hit football’s world governing body?
The decision by FIFA to investigate claims that Sepp Blatter’s only challenger, Mohamed Bin Hammam, and the organisation’s longest-serving vice-president, Jack Warner, were both caught up in a bribery sensation is by far and away the most damning of all the recent scandals to strike at the heart of the governing body’s hierarchy.
Far more damning than the cash-for-votes suspensions of two other FIFA Executive Committee members just before last December’s World Cup ballot.
And far more damning than recent unproven accusations involving six more FIFA Executive Committee members, including Warner, over the bidding process for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
This time, we are told, there are sworn affidavits. And most importantly of all, this time the case is being heard not as a result of a newspaper expose or under British Parliamentary privilege but after being brought to the attention of FIFA by one of their own inner sanctum, none other than the US Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer.
What, one might ask, were Blazer’s motives? After all, he and Warner have worked together at the head of the CONCACAF confederation for as long as most of us can remember. Could it be that there was more love lost between the pair over the years than either would have us believe?
Or was it simply that, even at the risk of sacrificing his relationship with Warner, Blazer felt he had to act in the interests of fair play?
The burly American, a highly qualified lawyer, is as canny as they come. You can bet your last dollar – so to speak – that he would not be putting his reputation on the line unless he felt the information at his disposal was so serious it needed to be brought into the open.
Whose to say whether it might have leaked out at some stage in the future and heaped even more dirt on FIFA just when the organisation is trying desperately to clean up its act?
Ironically, ever since he launched his election manifesto, Bin Hammam has talked about the need for greater transparency following the recent ugly spate of corruption allegations. Behind in the polls, he had hoped to pick up crucial support in the days leading up to the election on June 1.
Now, however, he himself has become embroiled in the most outrageous development of the whole sorry saga, his credibility – and that of Warner – having taken a massive hit.
If and how Bin Hammam can wriggle out of it remains to be seen. The likelihood of him taking on Blatter next week must already be in serious doubt. Firstly, FIFA’s Ethics Committee meets on Sunday – three days before the election. Secondly, if found guilty bin Hammam would surely appeal. And that will take weeks rather than days to resolve.
If Bin Hammam does end up being provisionally suspended just before the election, his supporters would doubtless cry foul at their man being unceremoniously ditched before having a proper chance to defend himself.
He could, of course, simply throw in the towel and allow Blatter a free run, ironically just what the 75-year-old Swiss had expected in the first place before Bin Hammam announced his challenge.
But even then, holding an election amid the stench of corruption would not go down well with member federations – or the public at large. Blatter would be accused, rightly or wrongly, of manipulating events in order to secure a fourth and final term as the lone candidate by default.
In the background, of course, is the question of how Bin Hammam’s suddenly tarnished image will affect his native Qatar. Only this week, their World Cup 2022 officials launched a passionate and strongly-worded defence of their conduct throughout the bid process in the wake of unsubstantiated accusations.
To see their most powerful administrator in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons must leave them wondering what on earth they have to do to prove to the world that they are beyond reproach.
Andrew Warshaw is a former sports editor of The European, the newspaper that broke the Bosman story in the 1990s, the most significant issue to shape professional football as we know it today. Before that, he worked for the Associated Press for 13 years in Geneva and London. He is now the chief football reporter for insideworldfootball.