Autocratic Qatari multi-millionaire Mohamad Bin Hammam kicked off his "Money for Nothing and Your Chicks for Free" World Tour 2011 late last week with a visit to North Korea where DPRK football officials grilled him relentlessly on his commitment to ending corruption, bribery and graft in FIFA affairs and were very excited to hear of his pledge to lead the organization into a new era of openness, honesty and fair play.
Then they got down to the serious business of figuring out just what their vote is worth on the open market.
Because as we all know North Korea is the biggest, saddest, most nauseating basket case of a country on the planet, and the only thing that moves their leadership is how much western hard currency will be coming their way. Their national program is entirely funded by FIFA development grants, Goal Project money and their yearly direct cash payment (US$500,000 in 2011), all of which, including the money that FIFA pays to contractors for things like the ever-popular "Federation Headquarters Building" and a "technical center" or two, flows through the coffers of the state.
Which, in a sick and sad way, is the perfect place to begin a campaign for the Presidency of FIFA.
Because at least in Pyongyang there is no attempt to conceal the fact that it's all about the money. High bidder will get their vote. They're broke, the economy is collapsing, the people are starving and it's really not even possible to put a smiley face on any of it.
(Here's an oddly disturbing little fact: the North Korean teams' jerseys are made by an Italian firm called Legeo. Their other two national team customers are Zimbabwe and Iran; apparently they specialize in uniforms for evil regimes that brutally oppress their citizens.)
That's not to say that there aren't other equally prostrate federations whose only concern is the cash, and not just the amount that's going to end up in their own pockets either. Haiti, for example, is every bit as broke and beholden to FIFA for their national program as anyone but there are two big differences:
First, Haiti doesn't pretend - and demand that you pretend - that their country is paradise on Earth, the envy of every living soul. They're desperate, they admit it and they say thank you when they get stuff. The NorKos take your money and then flood your banks with counterfeit currency and sell BioChemNuke weaponry to people who want you dead.
Secondly, and of course this is the biggie, Haiti votes the way Jack Warner tells them to vote. If you want to buy their ballot, then Uncle Jack is who you make the check out to. Oh sure, the candidates will both tour some Caribbean countries, have some pictures taken, shake some hands and pretend that it's campaigning, but it's only because Warner wants to show everybody how much power he has. When it comes time to cut a deal, Haiti won't even be in the room.
Then again, we don't have much room to crow: Jack Warner will be peddling the USSFs' vote along with all the rest.
Yet, as much as this election will boil down to cash and 208 voters (give or take a few - there are always a couple countries under suspension; just this week FIFA took over control of the Indonesian Fed (the PSSI) because the President is a convicted embezzler who has been blatantly rigging his own reelection for more than a decade and everybody got so sick of him that they formed a breakaway, non-sanctioned league so they wouldn't have to deal with him any more - Bin Hammam is behaving as if he's running for public office in a western country instead of for Head Mobster in a closed International cartel.
Don't be surprised to see "Vote Bin Hammam" posters stapled to telephone poles and stuck in front lawns around your neighborhood any day now.
Most importantly though, he's hit upon a campaign theme which is actually getting some traction, namely that FIFA has acquired a particularly ugly worldwide public reputation and Blatter is the face of that perception and in order for FIFA to heal it's image with fans around the world Blatter has to go.
It's a good pitch, but it would be a lot more convincing if it didn't come from Bin Hammam.
Because of course it's impossible to ignore the fact that the challenger is a citizen of Qatar, the country that just recently more or less openly bought themselves the 2022 World Cup by lining the pockets of FIFA executives with millions upon millions of dollars.
The blockbuster will fall later today as Thomas Kistner, sports editor of the respected Munich-based German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, describes evidence he claims to have that Qatar bribed Vice President Julio Gondova and other executive members with promises to build 22 stadiums and other facilities in countries represented on the FIFA executive committee.
He'll also tell the The Offshore Alert Conference in Miami that French President Sarkozy ordered Michael Platini to vote for Qatar in return for commercial contracts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
And it's hardly an accident that Sepp Blatter is - sadly, reluctantly, sobbing huge crocodile tears - ADMITTING that there's no question Qatar vote-swapped with Spain, in violation of FIFA regulations.
Or as Sepp is saying, that's QATAR, with a Q. As in the same QATAR where my opponent, QATARI Mohammad Bin Hammam is from.
Furthermore, as you may know, the Qatari Royal Family sponsors what's called the Aspire Academy, which constructs training facilities in other countries.
Turns out that just last year, shockingly, they added Thailand and Costa Rica to the countries in which a facility will be built.
It's certainly just a coincidence that both countries are represented on the ExCo.
So as more and more of this muck comes to light, for Qatars' main man in international soccer to come around mewling about how shocked he is at all the corruption going on is a Claude Rains moment if ever there was one.
In short, Bin Hammam is going to have a very tough time distancing himself from all the sleaze which clings to FIFA like stink on a monkey.
Jazzy website, Twitters and campaign photos aimed at making him look like a Middle Eastern cross between John Travolta and James Bond notwithstanding, because of the World Cup bidding fiasco he's as much of a symbol of what's wrong as Blatter is.
Still, in the end, just like always, it's going to come down to the money. The difference is that spreading cash around is something he understands.
He and his countrymen have this bribery thing down pat.