Asian Federation President Mohammad bin Hammam, speaking from AFC headquarters in Malaysia yesterday, declared himself a candidate for President of FIFA.
This is going to be fun. And ugly.
(An early example of the former is THIS HEADLINE from The Emirates which identifies Blatter as a "Swede")
bin Hammam served notice to all and sundry - if there was any remaining doubt - that this election will be about one thing and one thing only:
Yes. that's right: money.
In his statement, the Qatari millionaire had a very few concrete proposals to offer - although there was one actual good one, which I'll get to momentarily - but the key one was his plan to double the amount of cash each federation receives from Zurich every year, which would mean a cool $500,000 per.
Hail to the Chief, baby.
A few days ago a very well known blogger who shall remain nameless wrote to me about how Grant Wahl was telling the myriad of people who were doing interviews with him - and hopefully yesterdays' announcement will put an end to that silliness - that his bid was an attempt to make a point "using satire and humor" and while that would be fine if it were true, by any generally accepted meaning of those two words he has provided exactly none of either.
I replied that it was really a shame because there were some things that could be done immediately to break down the autocratic, kleptocratic culture of corruption under which FIFA operates (and no, changing the yellow-card-for-removing-your-shirt rule isn't one of them), and the main one would be to double or even triple the size of the ExCo.
This would make it much more difficult to buy a decision since there would be so many more people to bribe and a little vote swapping of the sort we saw back in December really wouldn't have much impact.
While this was hardly an original idea, it was nevertheless something of a surprise to see bin Hammam proposing something similar since the current system makes ties much more likely - particularly when they arrange them in advance - giving the President the deciding vote.
He would abolish the ExCo immediately, expanding it to a 40 man body to be called the "FIFA Board" which would include four more seats for UEFA, the CAF and Asia plus three additional seats for CONCACAF, one more for CONMEBOL and another for Oceania, the latter being something that new FIFA Vice President David Chung of Papua New Guinea would likely insist upon. Just to be fair.
He also proposed forming a FIFA "transparency committee" which is possibly the emptiest promise since - well, since every politician in the US proposed something similar a couple years ago and then went to Washington and ignored it. One can almost certainly expect the same from bin Hammam if for no other reason than the fact that literally no one within the organization actually wants it.
Put another way, a FIFA Transparency Committee would be about as effective at achieving their stated mission as the new Ethics Committee has been.
It's simply a bone for the media to latch on to, allowing him to claim the moral high ground (something which "pass out a bunch more cash" doesn't really do) and gives him something that Blatter can have no response to: if Sepp had any interest in "transparency" he would presumably have demonstrated it at least once since he took over in 1998.
One little-noted element of a FIFA Presidential election is the fact that, as in most political battles, running for office costs a whole lot of money. For the next 10 weeks (the vote will be held on June 1) both bin Hammam and Blatter will frantically criss-cross the globe, meeting with the leaders of virtually every federation at least once so the feds can present their personal shopping lists and the candidates can promise them all of it and more.
Then it's up to the 208 voters, like voters everywhere, to decide which candidate told the more plausible lies.
The point being that it's a very expensive proposition. Blatter can pawn some of it off on FIFA, but he'll have to come up with at least ten million dollars (he spent an estimated eleven million, most of it provided by adidas, in 2002), but he'll have no trouble getting corporate cash. For his part, bin Hammam has apparently been offered the use of the virtually limitless coffers of the Emir of Qatar, making it more than a fair fight in that regard.
Which brings us to the meat of the question, ie. whether bin Hammam can win.
He told the media yesterday that he figures he has about a "50-50" chance, but you can bet that he's a lot more confident than that.
The wild card in all of this may be UEFA President Michael Platini, who is widely known to lust after the corner office in Zurich. There have been rampant rumors that Blatter has promised him privately that in return for his not entering the race this year that he won't run again and will instead throw his considerable support behind the Frenchman in 2014.
But if bin Hammam wins the job Blatters' support in 2014 won't matter much than Joao Havelanges', so the Qatari winning the job could very well mean Platini saying goodbye to it forever.
What's more, there is virtually nobody who is crazy about the prospect of bin Hammam taking over FIFA. This whole thing is a sort of "ABB" movement (Anyone But Blatter) while Platini would have serious support.
So if it looks to him like Blatter is going down, he may decide to throw his chapeau into the ring out of self defense. The problem is that he doesn't have nearly the kind of control over the UEFA federations that someone like Jack Warner does over CONCACAF's 35 votes. The Europeans will each do what they feel is in their best interests, and Platini won't be calling the shots.
At the moment, it appears that Asia and Europe are both fairly evenly split, and Africa may actually be leaning slightly towards the Qatari, but there's one whole hell of a lot of bribery to be done before anything like a hard count is possible.
Which, as mentioned yesterday, leaves Warner and Blazer with their unified 35 vote block - representing one sixth of the total - more or less in control of the outcome.
And Warner and Blazer are both pretty miffed at the way things have been going recently.
(One interesting theory, for those among you of a conspiratorial bent, says that in fact Warner knew full well that the ExCo would never give him that fourth full World Cup slot.
They're saying that he did it a) to find out who his friends are and b) to give him a plausible, easily understandable reason to drop his support for his old pal Sepp if it comes to that.)
Which is not to say that they won't give Blatter their ballots and, probably, four more years, but they're going to hold both candidates feet to the fire over the next two and a half months.
And as England can attest, whatever promises Warner makes are utterly worthless.
This should be fun.