There's an election coming up. Well, to call the process of anointing (or re-anointing) a FIFA president an election would be to legitimize the sort of electoral shenanigans that go on in North Korea, Syria, Zimbabwe and Cuba. It isn't really an election.
In May, Sepp Blatter will stand for a fifth term as the grand poobah of FIFA, world soccer's Perpetual Crisis Machine which mass-produces controversy. Blatter, who joined FIFA in 1975 and rose to president in 1998, has been the engine of those crises and controversies. The pint-sized president has ruled with an iron (albeit tiny) fist. Any man to cross him soon feels the wrath of his immense, crooked power, but so long as you play ball with him, anything goes. Under Blatter's unwatchful eye, there have been endless scandals of corruption and graft during decades of hijinks and tomfoolery, culminating in the naked selling of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
In a perfect illustration of FIFA's modus operandi, an investigation into the allocation of those World Cups, commissioned by FIFA itself and carried out by former U.S. attorney Michael Garcia, was never published. Instead, FIFA's so-called Ethics Committee released a summary of findings. Garcia objected virulently to its conclusions and characterizations, claiming they misrepresented his report. When his appeal to those conclusions – heard by the very people who had compiled them – was rejected, he resigned in protest.
To that backdrop, Blatter, who of course wasn't even mentioned in the conclusions of the summary of the self-imposed reckoning of FIFA's affairs, will be on the ballot for the May 29 vote. And those unfortunate souls who have paid close attention in recent years are getting flashbacks to the ugly scenes that unfolded in 2011 before his last re-election.
Back then, his only real rival, Mohamed Bin Hammam, was shunted from FIFA days before the votes were to be cast. The Qatari stood accused of bribery, withdrew from the race and was banned for life. The man to call out his alleged bribery, the American then-executive committee member and CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer, has since also been ostracized from FIFA on account of corruption, as has his long-time ally, then-CONCACAF president Jack Warner.
With all of this going down just days before the election, there were calls to postpone it, a motion that was summarily voted down. So with nobody to run against him yet again – he'd gone unchallenged in 2007 as well – Blatter won by 186 of 203 votes, meaning 17 federations had preferred to vote for nobody at all. (The USA voted for Blatter.)
Blatter has developed a handy knack for clearing the field for himself. Word is he'd made a deal with UEFA president and heir apparent Michel Platini that if the Frenchman wouldn't run in 2011, this would be Blatter's final term. Then he asked FIFA's member nations, who each get one vote, if they would – pretty please – let him have one last spin at the wheel of the world's game.
Yet as the end of Blatter's fourth term came into view, he started making noises about his improved health. Aged 78, he was in the shape of his life, having lost some weight, or something. "I have not finished my mission because it's my mission to be in football," he blathered, meaning whatever it meant – perhaps that he seeks to totally discredit a sport of already ill repute. Whatever. He's running again.
What's far more interesting than the rhetorical knots Blatter twists himself into – backtracking on his thick catalogue of verbal blunders of un-kept promises – is who will go up against him. Once again, the field is hardly stacked as Thursday's deadline for announcing candidacies looms. So who's in the "race" so far?
The first to signal his intention to challenge Blatter was Champagne, who was once close to the incumbent president but got into some type of power struggle with him in 2009, lost out and was then kicked out. The Frenchman is known as something of an ideologue who produces lengthy manifestos but doesn't appear to have much support among the member nations, which now number 209.
Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein
The Jordanian prince is a FIFA vice president with an impeccable reputation and track record, even though it's unlikely that he'll be a part of FIFA much longer if he doesn't win. The Asian confederation is being reformed and is now run by Blatter loyalists, who will no doubt punish him for running. Prince Ali has the backing of much of Europe, though, although not Russia – which owes Blatter one for the 2018 World Cup – and Eastern Europe, which may be in his (or Russia's) debt in some other way. Al-Hussein is, however, the most viable candidate not named Blatter, for whatever that's worth.
Michael van Praag
The other likely opponent is Van Praag, a seasoned Dutch executive who announced his candidacy the day after Blatter who, in another fit of hubris, dared the Europeans to actually challenge him saying "They don't have the courage to come in." Van Praag is an unsexy yet sensible choice, but it is expected that either he or Prince Ali will withdraw at some point before the election in order to consolidate the anti-Blatter vote.
The former player has put on a campaign that veers closer to satire than viability. We learned fairly quickly that the whimsical winger's campaign was backed by a betting house with a penchant for weird publicity stunts, and this qualifies as just such a thing. We also found out Ginola was being paid $375,000 for his efforts, yet wants to crowd-fund his campaign, for which he inexplicably reckons he'll need $3.5 million. The first week of fundraising yielded just $8,500.
The Chilean is mulling a run. He was in charge of the inspection committee that much preferred England over Russia and made clear its concerns about Qatar's climate only to be ignored by the executive committee. Like the others, he doesn't have much of a chance against Blatter. He might support Prince Ali anyway.
The presidential race has come to this because Blatter understands the foundational tenets of running a dictatorship ever so well. Firstly, he spreads the wealth among cronies who can keep him in power. Over his years at FIFA, he has delivered vast sums of "development" money to FIFA's member federations gained from the billions of dollars of World Cup profits. The discontent with Blatter runs highest in the countries that have been spurned in the awarding of World Cups. But for most of the world, there is no incentive at all to rid itself of him.
His second despotic trick is to raise the barriers to entry into any race to oppose him. In 2013, a rule was passed on the sly that made future candidates garner the nomination of five member countries – rather than one – while having served two of the last five years in some kind of executive soccer role, which was a new requirement. That saw to it that well-regarded politicians couldn't suddenly cross over into soccer and all but ensures that pranksters like Ginola won't qualify.
The nominations for the presidency are public, whereas the vote is secret. The risk of retribution for a country nominating someone other than Blatter is enormous. When Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl ran for president in 2011 – symbolically, more than anything – not a single country would nominate him, even though several would have voted for him. It was too perilous, they told him.
Ultimately, this isn't really an election but an odd kind of pageantry. The candidates try to appeal to a wide audience but only need to gain traction with a small group of people – the holder of the vote of every federation. It's a very public race, broadcast to millions, yet the votes will be privately cast by a few hundred. Of those 209, a great many are in Blatter's pocket.
Last Wednesday, a nascent organization – advocating transparency and change and calling itself New FIFA Now – held its inaugural meeting in Brussels. Champagne and Mayne-Nicholls were scheduled to speak. It seems they did, but that isn't actually clear. New FIFA Now's website hasn't been updated in the week since the event.
That illustrates the fecklessness of the opposition to Blatter, which will no doubt hand the Swiss yet another term on a platter.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.