With just 37 days to go until Fifa's Executive Committee (ExCo) members vote on who will stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, every week will be a big one for the bidders, England included, and this week, with two major events in Zurich, certainly lives up to that billing.
First up is a prestigious conference, the International Football Arena (IFA), which began yesterday. Then, on Thursday and Friday, the ExCo will hold its quarterly meeting, albeit with 22 members instead of 24 after the suspensions of Nigeria's Amos Adamu and Tahiti's Reynald Temarii after allegations they were willing to sell their votes.
Smoke-filled rooms and corridors of whispers are only part of it; after a fortnight of damaging accusations about various ExCo members and the bidding process, the very reputation of Fifa is up for grabs, as well as the right to stage two future instalments of the biggest, most lucrative single-sport tournament in the world. Trying to ascertain which bids are currently in pole position and which are already also-rans is to take a trip to Rumsfeld territory. As the former US Secretary of State for defence might have said, with Fifa politics, there are known knowns (such as the bid process is murky at best and utterly corrupt at worst); known unknowns (like who is going to vote for whom) and unknown unknowns, or things we don't yet even know we don't know.
What we do know about the bid process plummeting to new depths of suspicion and confusion is that, after an extensive undercover investigation by The Sunday Times, Adam and Temarii were suspended last week, as were four other Fifa officials, for various alleged roles in vote-selling: Slim Aloulou, Ismael Bhamjee, Amadou Diakite and Ahongalu Fusimalohi.
The Sunday Times also taped Fifa's former general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen alleging ExCo members could be influenced by cash, another could be influenced by "ladies" and describing one as "the biggest gangster you will find on earth".
Zen-Ruffinen, who qualified his comments to the paper by saying they were "impressions" and "exaggerated" to keep business interest, also alleged there was a deal between the Spain-Portugal bid (seeking the 2018 tournament) and the Qatar bid (2022) to trade votes to ensure each gets at least seven votes. If such a deal were true, and those votes happened, Spain would be hot favourites to win the 2018 tournament, leaving England as losers thanks to a deal that is against the rules. "This is not just a rumour, it is fact," he told undercover reporters of the alleged Spain-Qatar pact, something both nations deny.
If this weren't enough potential sleaze to drown any organisation, an investigation by Fifa's ethics committee – scheduled to report its findings in mid-November – will also try to discover which bidding nations, if any, have been offering inappropriate incentives to individual ExCo members, including Temarii, who has alleged he was offered deals worth $10m (£6.3m) and $12m from two unnamed bids.
Fifa yesterday responded to the latest revelations – about Zen-Ruffinen – by saying: "Fifa and the ethics committee are committed to have zero tolerance for any breach of the code of ethics and the bid registration. [We] are determined to protect the integrity of the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cup bidding process."
England's bid is one of four for 2018, the others being Netherlands-Belgium jointly, Portugal-Spain jointly, and Russia. Bidding for 2022 are Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and the United States. A Fifa inspection team has already visited every country to weigh up the technical strengths and weaknesses of the bids and the official report of the team's findings is due to be published in mid-November.
While the ethics committee sifts through allegations, the hunt for votes goes on. Among those attending the IFA are England's bid chief executive, Andy Anson, and the bid's "international president", David Dein. The IFA is described as "an annual conference for the unseen rich men who run football" and attended by movers and shakers of the global game, some ExCo members included. It started yesterday, with the role of agents, the future of social media and stadiums on the agenda. It concludes today with sessions about sponsorship, and World Cup bidding.
Three bidding nations – Australia, Japan and Russia – will make presentations and host Q&A sessions, before a lunch hosted by the Russian bid team.
It's safe to say no expense will be spared. The IFA is taking place at the Hotel Dolder Grand, a renovated 19th-century pile where you don't get any change from £600 for the cheapest rooms, many of which come with views of Zurich, the lake and the Alps.
Anson and Dein are spending this week "campaigning privately" rather than making any formal presentations. The opportunity was there for any bidder to present to the IFA but only one more set of presentations truly matters now; the ones in Zurich by all bidders ahead of the 2 December vote.
The ExCo meeting on Thursday and Friday was scheduled long before the votes scandal erupted; it is the normal quarterly meeting, although the agenda will now be dominated by the 2018-2022 process. Likely to be given short shrift is Zen-Ruffinen's suggestion on Swiss TV on Sunday evening that Fifa should appoint external independent investigators to look at corruption allegations.
"The problem [in credibility] stems from the fact that when it comes to taking decisions to eradicate corruption, these decisions are delegated to an internal organ – a body also part of Fifa," Zen-Ruffinen said. "If one wants to eliminate corruption from Fifa, as the International Olympic Committee succeeded in doing when there was a problem surrounding the organisation of the Olympic Games, the mandate has to be given to an outside body."
There are two chances of that happening: slim and none. And as a variation on the old gag goes, slim's already been suspended.
The 24 Ex-Co members
When Fifa meets on 2 December to choose the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, an eclectic collection of football's blazerati – the Executive Committee – will gather in a committee room in the world governing body's HQ on the outskirts of Zurich. Their votes will determine the two hosts, with England bidding for 2018 against Russia, Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium.
Sepp Blatter (Switzerland)
Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)
Michel D'Hooghe (Belgium)
Senes Erzik (Turkey)
Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus)
Angel Maria Villar Llona (Spain)
Vitaly Mutko (Russia)
Michel Platini (France)
Geoff Thompson (England)
Hany Abo Rida (Egypt)
Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast)
Issa Hayatou (Cameroon)
Mohamed Bin Hammam (Qatar)
Worawi Makudi (Thailand)
Chung Mong-joon (South Korea)
Junji Ogura (Japan)
Concacaf (North and central America)
Chuck Blazer (US)
Rafael Salguero (Guatemala)
Jack Warner (Trinidad & Tobago)
Conmebol (South America)
Julio Grondona (Argentina)
Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay)
Ricardo Terra Teixeira (Brazil)
Currently suspended: Amos Adamu (Nigeria) and Reynald Temarii (Tahiti)