(WFI) In a dark corner of the Baur au Lac hotel bar, Asian sports powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah was seen plotting with UEFA chief Michel Platini and a group of other football executives.
INSIDER gained access to the outside bar area at the luxury Zurich hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva where many of the top football officials are staying for the FIFA Congress.
The Kuwaiti, a loyal Blatter ally, and the Frenchman, who called for the Swiss to resign on Thursday, were joined by at least three other Asian football officials including Thailand’s scandal-hit former FIFA ExCo member Worawi Makudi, Sheikh Ahmad’s key confidante Hussein Al-Musallam who is the director general of the Olympic Council of Asia, and what could have been an African football delegate.
INSIDER observed Sheikh Ahmad in animated conversation with the other executives. There was clearly a frank exchange of views about something. With Blatter’s position becoming increasingly untenable due to the latest corruption storm, it seems certain that the FIFA presidency was one topic of discussion.
Just metres away, Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko was dining with Russia 2018 CEO Alexey Sorokin. Mutko, a FIFA ExCo member, looked fidgety and was seen keeping a beady eye on the huddle of football executives.
INSIDER was later ejected from the premises by a hotel security official who said media were banned from the area due to “private meetings”.
Ahmad is considered the kingmaker in the FIFA presidential election, in which Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein is seeking to depose the 79-year-old incumbent. He helped Sheikh Salman, another fierce Blatter loyalist, to secure the Asian Football Confederation presidency in 2013, and is credited with aiding Thomas Bach’s ascent to the IOC throne.
Sheikh Ahmad has a strong lock on power in the Olympic world, heading the Olympic Council of Asia and as president of the Association of National Olympic Committees. He also chairs Olympic Solidarity which distributes millions of dollars from IOC coffers to projects worldwide.
On Friday, he takes his seat as a FIFA Executive Committee member.
Amid calls for the FIFA election to be postponed following the $150 million corruption scandal that engulfed FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb and six current FIFA officials on Wednesday, both Sheikh Ahmad and Sheikh Salman had demanded the election go ahead as planned.
UEFA decided against boycotting the congress with Platini saying today the Jordanian would get a minimum 45 or 46 votes from UEFA member federations. The Jordanian’s problem lies in bagging votes from the rest of the 209 FIFA delegates, with many of those in AFrica, Asia and Oceania self-confessed Blatter disciples.
A total of 105 votes is needed to win the election.
Tonight’s scenes witnessed by INSIDER suggest something may be afoot, with Prince Ali’s campaign possibly about to gain some momentum as the secret ballot looms.
As the night wears on, deals are being struck to deliver votes for Prince Ali as Blatter’s power base slips away. But will it be enough.
If Sheikh Ahmad had a dramatic change of heart – it would be a major shock if he turned on Blatter – and switched alliances to back Prince Ali, he might use his influence to persuade a number of Asian, African and CONCACAF delegates to join his crusade.
If that scenario materialised, he could almost certainly deliver a stack of votes to give Prince Ali a strong chance of ousting Blatter.
As Blatter remained defiant on the eve of the election, rejecting all calls to stand down and vowing to clean up FIFA – again – after his organisation was plunged into crisis, FIFA’s reputation in the gutter, his fate may well lie in the hands of those plotting at the Baur au Lac
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
Your best source of news about the global football business is World Football INSIDER