David Owen

From the days of Mrs Astor’s New York, and probably long before, all networks have had their must-attend parties.

The annual summer party held by the late Sir David Frost, the media personality, is a good example of the sort of thing I have in mind.

This past week in Lausanne, there was no doubting the invitation that those hooked into the Olympic “network” most wanted to get their hands on: it was for the June 8 reception to mark the inauguration of the new Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) Headquarters, hosted by Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah.

The occasion more than lived up to its billing; there were of course more International Olympic Committee (IOC) members than you could shake a stick at, the late afternoon sun shone and the garden of the elegantly-reappointed town-house - adjacent to the Palace Hotel - where ANOC President Sheikh Ahmad has established the base of the organisation looked pretty as a picture.

Notable attendees among the flutes and canapés, included Alisher Usmanov, the billionaire business magnate, Arsenal Football Club shareholder and international fencing boss recently rated Russia’s richest man, IOC President Thomas Bach and the two famous athletes currently sparring for the Presidency of one of the key Olympic sports federations, the International Association of Athletics Federations, Sergey Bubka and Sebastian Coe.

The great and good of the Olympic Movement gathered at the new ANOC headquarters for the Ceremony ©ANOC
The great and good of the Olympic Movement gathered at the new ANOC headquarters for the Ceremony ©ANOC

The man who was arguably the most noteworthy guest, however, had nothing directly to do with the Olympic Movement - except insofar as the sport to which he has dedicated his life is part of the Games programme.

I came across him, along with colleague Gianni Infantino, alongside fellow Frenchmen - and Olympic gold medallists - Guy Drut, the hurdler, and canoeist Tony Estanguet.

Why was Michel Platini’s presence so significant? After all, the UEFA President didn’t have far to come, with the European football body based barely 40km along Lake Geneva in Nyon.

Coming just two days after Sheikh Ahmad had missed an ANOC Executive Committee meeting because he was in Berlin attending the Champions League final that is the flagship annual event of Platini’s organisation, it added to the impression that a new power axis is forming in world football.

Sheikh Ahmad was only confirmed as a FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) member last month.

But he is an IOC member of 23 years’ standing and is known to wield considerable influence over numerous international sports bodies, including the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

It will not be as neat and easy as this, but if you add the AFC’s 46 national associations to UEFA’s 53, you get very close to the 105 votes likely to be required to secure a majority in the FIFA Presidential contest now expected to take place between December 2015 and February 2016.

I am still not totally convinced that either man truly wants to succeed the beleaguered Sepp Blatter in one of the most demanding and lonely posts in world sport.

But if an alliance is forged, and if it holds good over this time period, then I think we can say that the next long-term President of FIFA will be either Sheikh Ahmad, or Platini, or a third party benefiting from their backing.

True intentions of both Michel Platini and Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah remains unclear ©Getty Images
True intentions of both Michel Platini and Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah remains unclear ©Getty Images

The next opportunity to assess the closeness of their relationship will come at the FIFA ExCo meeting on July 20 that will fix the date on which a successor to Blatter is expected to be elected.

More intriguingly, next month’s meeting is expected to discuss the reforms that Blatter hopes will improve the body’s defective corporate governance and go some way to salvaging his own battered reputation.

On this critical topic, it could be argued that an AFC-UEFA alliance would be especially powerfully placed, since it would hold an effective veto, with many votes to spare, over reforms requiring statute changes, which need to be approved by three-quarters of members present and eligible to vote.

Such an alliance thus has the power to prevent an illustrious figure from outside football mounting a bid for the FIFA Presidency on a “fresh start” ticket: current statutes state that candidatures must be proposed by FIFA members and that candidates must have played an active role in football for two of the previous five years.

Given the ease with which confederations should be able to block reforms that they may interpret as detrimental to their interests, it will be interesting to observe the tactics that the wily and resourceful Blatter adopts to try to force through meaningful changes.

Will he simply try to shame associations into backing him by arguing that the turmoil in which FIFA now finds itself demonstrates how badly far-reaching changes are needed?

Could he make his departure somehow contingent on the reforms being approved?

Will he even survive until the extraordinary Congress?

One of the few things one can say at this point without fear of contradiction is that almost no-one knows their way around the 84 pages of the FIFA statute-book better than the organisation’s 79-year-old President and his closest advisers.

July 20 and the weeks that follow promise in their way to be no less gripping than the extraordinary episode in FIFA’s history that kicked off with that dramatic dawn raid on Zurich’s plush Baur au Lac hotel little more than two weeks ago.