Prince Ali to challenge Blatter

Jordanian prince says he will put focus back on football as he bids to become first Asian to be elected head of FIFA.

    Prince Ali to challenge Blatter
    Blatter, left, and Prince Ali visit a refugee camp in Jordan in 2013. Prince Ali is set to challenge the Swiss in May [AFP]

    Jordan’s Ali bin Al-Hussein will stand against Sepp Blatter for presidency of football's world governing body FIFA, and declared on Tuesday that years of controversy surrounding "the beautiful sport" must end.

    "I am seeking the presidency of FIFA because I believe it is time to shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport," Prince Ali, currently Asia’s vice-president at the organisation, said on his Twitter feed.

    "The headlines should be about football, the beautiful sport, not about FIFA."

    With the expected backing of European body UEFA, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein's hopes of becoming the first Asian president of FIFA will rest on his ability to sway support at home in the Asian Football Confederation.

    UEFA and AFC members will account for 100 votes - almost half of the total - at the May elections in Zurich, where the 39-year-old Jordanian royal will stand against Jermone Champagne and, barring a shock U-turn, 17-year incumbent Blatter.

    Champagne on ice

    Tuesday's announcement of Ali's decision to stand followed UEFA President Michel Platini revealing last month that he did not want to back either Platini or Champagne and hoped another candidate would emerge.

    The Jordanian royal is a confidant of Platini and will be able to bank on the support of the 54 members associations of a united UEFA, who have been critical of Blatter. He also needs five countries to nominate him by January 31.

    But a successful election will need votes from elsewhere, and Blatter has already been assured of the support of Africa's 54 members, Confederation of African Football general secretary Hicham el-Amrani said in September.

    African football general secretary Hicham el-Amrani has declared the continent for Blatter [AFP]

    Asia is the key battleground.

    Despite being the founder and head of the West Asian Football Federation, Ali's stock in his home continent has dropped since taking on the role at the world governing body in 2011.

    Ali lost a political power struggle to AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa last year, with the Bahraini forcing through policy to ensure the head of the organisation took the FIFA seat on the all-powerful executive committee.

    The Bahraini came to power in 2013 with a conclusive election victory after being backed by Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah - the man Ali needs to topple Blatter.

    Sheikh Ahmad is the head of the Olympic Council of Asia and the Association of National Olympic Committees and his support has swayed many a sporting election campaign, with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach among those who have won votes after the Kuwaiti's backing.

    When Blatter spoke at the AFC's awards dinner in Manila in December he made a point of reaching out to thank and praise Sheikh Ahmad in his pre-dinner speech rather than Bahraini Shaikh Salman, who had opened proceedings by reiterating the AFC's full support for Blatter to stand for a fifth term.

    Asian members know Sheikh Ahmad can change that and back the Jordanian as he has done before.

    Headscarf rule

    Despite the political powerplays at the top, Ali has won plaudits for his four years of vice-presidential work, where he has increased the number of countries competing in the Asian Champions League, promoted women's football in Asia and removed the ban on headscarfs in the game.

    The Asian Football Development Project, a non-profit youth commission he founded in 2012 to develop football across the poorest areas of the continent will also have curried favour among some Asian members - and, he hopes, in all-powerful Kuwait.

    FIFA has been steeped in allegations of corruption since Russia and Qatar's successful bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

    Prince Ali, the 39-year-old son of the late King Hussein of Jordan, had been one of the most senior FIFA officials to call for the publication in full of a report last year into the winning bids.

    But FIFA's executive voted to release only an "appropriate", edited version of top US lawyer Michael Garcia's report into the alleged corruption, and Blatter last month ruled out any suggestion that Qatar could lose the tournament.

    "It would really need an earthquake, extremely important new elements to go back on this World Cup in Qatar," Blatter said.

    FIFA and Blatter have sought, without success, to silence critics of the Qatari and Russian bids, and it will now looks as if they will become the election battleground.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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