KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Forget about two of Sepp Blatter’s three challengers quitting before FIFA’s presidential election in Zurich on May 29. If the trio have any sense they will all go to congress, driven by these two compelling reasons:

Firstly, taking all all their individual votes is the only way they can hope to impose on Blatter the embarrassment of not winning in the first round; and

Secondly, new electoral rules offer them the opportunity of addressing congress – a right denied them by biased, undemocratic and sycophantic manoeuvrings in the conferences of Africa, Asia, central/north America and South America.

Thus far the election fight has been less a punchfest, more shadow boxing.

Teamwork? Prince Ali, Luis Figo and Michael Van Praag

Any serious challenger for the top job in FIFA needs to start networking at least two years out, if not more. The only man to show early this time was ex-FIFA official Jerome Champagne who, for all his finely-honed vision, could not generate five nominations from among the 209 national associations.

Every other possible candidate held back, waiting in vain for UEFA president Michel Platini to step up to the plate.

Words, not deeds

Platini’s belated refusal to back his critical words with deeds left no time for a serious challenge, no matter how hard Prince Ali, Van Praag and Figo have toiled in flying the world, organising meetings, pressing the flesh and talking up the imperative for change.

Blatter, arrogantly dismissive of his challengers, has not even bothered to campaign. He has merely carried on presidential business as normal in confident knowledge that the power of patronage built during 17 years in office has ensured a commanding victory.

UEFA has provided encouragement and support for the anti-Blatter coalition. Yet not all its 53 voting associations (Gibraltar not being a FIFA member) will come on board. Blatter will pick up votes from his native Switzerland, from his long-term supporter Angel Maria Villar in Spain as well as next World Cup host Russia and its satellites.

As for the challengers:

Figo hopes to corral a handful of votes from Portugal’s old African territories;

Van Praag, comparatively unknown outside Europe, may pick up some former Dutch dependencies (such as Surinam); and

Prince Ali will find support in Arab North Africa and the far eastern reaches of an Asian confederation otherwise ranged against him by its Bahraini president, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

But, as the trio must have accepted during their discussions in Nyon on Monday, not one can guarantee his own supporters to either of the other two.

Fickle faith

If Figo pulls out ahead of congress then his African support will fall in regional line and revert to Blatter;  the same for supporters of Van Praag and Prince Ali.

Hence the only way they can hope to secure enough votes to force a second ballot is by all staying in the race and thus displaying a significant degree of disaffection to the world and to congress. Their target is a challenging 69 since Blatter, to achieve victory in the first round, must secure 140 (two-thirds) of the maximum 209 votes.

The second, almost more compelling reason, for enduring is to be found on page 16 of the new electoral regulations drawn up last year by audit committee chairman Domenico Scala and the now-departed Michael Garcia.

Article 17, paragraph Two states simply:

“Before the voting is opened, the candidates shall have the opportunity to speak for 15 minutes to present their programme to the Congress.”

Time enough

This will come as a surprise to most delegates. The procedure is not spelled out on the congress agenda which explains Item 17 merely as ‘Election of the President.’

Now clearly the rules were written in the expectation that only two candidates – at most! – would be standing, not four. But rules are rules and these regulations have been published in full transparency on the FIFA website.

Hence Prince Ali, Van Praag and Figo between them will have a full 45 minutes to state openly what has gone wrong with FIFA under Blatter, what is still going wrong under Blatter and why someone else should take over from Blatter to start putting it all right.

Blatter will also have the opportunity to state his own case, an option he has refused to take formally thus far. As he told a Swiss newspaper earlier this week, basically, he has been kept too busy being FIFA president.

He can present a powerful case. He can point to FIFA rocketing from the depths of penury in 2002, with marketeers and insurers crashing around it, to a position of financial grandeur with $1.5bn reserves in case a rainy day should force a World Cup cancellation.

However a gaggle of ‘little devils’ – and some major ones – have erupted along the way, too. So, if the rival trio take up their right, Blatter will have to sit for a full 45 minutes listening to where he got it wrong . . . and the rest of the world football’s power brokers, like it or not, will have to sit and listen as well.

Would either Prince Ali or Figo or Van Praag want to pass up that opportunity?

After all, it will be the last chance they get . . . and on by far the grandest and finest stage.