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Op-Ed: FIFA scandal — Challenge to Blatter from a Jordanian prince

To many within FIFA, the challenger, a member of the Jordanian royal family, is seen as just the white knight FIFA needs to clean up its act, but just who is this relative unknown?

Prince Ali, who apart from his interest in football also holds the rank of Brigadier in the Jordanian armed forces, has the backing of a number of football legends including Diego Maradona and Michel Platini.

Former French international Platini, now president of UEFA, football’s powerful governing body in Europe and who’s thought to have the ear of Blatter, has already called for the current FIFA president to stand aside following the past week’s events that saw Swiss police make a number of dawn raids and arrests of FIFA officials wanted on charges of corruption, racketeering and money-laundering in the United States.

Ali is the young challenger in today’s FIFA presidential. Aged just 39, he’s 40 years Blatter’s junior and has served on FIFA’s Executive Committee since 2011. Unlike Blatter, who has been in post for 17 years, Ali enters the election untainted by recent events.

Prince Ali is perhaps most famous for having advanced the cause of women’s football, particularly in Asia. His faith (Ali is a Muslim) hasn’t prevented him from arguing strongly that women should participate in the sport.

In 2011, Prince Ali declared, “I am determined to address all relevant issues in order to ensure that all girls and women can play this beautiful game across the continent [of Asia].” True to his word, Ali took steps to instigate rule changes to permit women players to wear a hijab while on the playing pitch.

Ali was also to the fore in ensuring publication of the Garcia Report which focused on voting for the next two soccer World Cups to be held in Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022. If anything, it was the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar that raised alarm bells that something might be rotten in world soccer’s governing body.

Happier days: FIFA President Sepp Blatter with Barack Obama and FIFA official Jack Warner. In the vo...

Happier days: FIFA President Sepp Blatter with Barack Obama and FIFA official Jack Warner. In the vote for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, Obama said that FIFA made “the wrong decision” in awarding 2022 tournament to Qatar.
The Official White House Photostream

Prince Ali has been no less forthright of late. A couple of days ago, following the arrests in Switzerland, he tweeted, “We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today.”

These same events have conspired to unify opposition to Blatter, crystallizing the hopes of many that a fresh face at the top would see FIFA take urgent steps to kick corruption out of world soccer’s administrative bastion.

On Thursday, Platini backed Ali, telling a press conference in Zurich, “A large majority of the European associations will all vote for Prince Ali.”

Platini also revealed to journalists that during Thursday morning’s FIFA emergency meeting, he’d told Blatter to step down given the scandal in which FIFA found itself engulfed.

“I said, I’m asking you to leave, FIFA’s image is terrible,” Platini told reporters. But, said Platini, Blatter told him that he couldn’t leave “all of a sudden.”

Platini added, “I’m saying this with sadness and tears in my eyes, but there have been too many scandals, FIFA doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.”

In contrast, earlier this week, Platini backed Prince Ali as a unifying force. Ali is now the sole challenger to Blatter after Dutch FA president, Michael van Praag, and former Portugal international Luis Figo failed to gain significant support and withdrew from the FIFA election last week.

Endorsing Prince Ali, Platini told the Daily Mail, “I am convinced that Ali, who I have known personally for many years, can make a great president of FIFA,” adding, “He has all the qualities. He has of course great passion for soccer and FIFA. He brings legitimacy. He has been president of a national federation for 15 years, a member of the executive committee of his confederation and a vice president of FIFA. He knows completely the workings of the institution without yet having had time to be crushed or deformed by them, and he has resisted that because he has great freedom of spirit and independence.”

But in his home province of the Asian football federation, support for Ali cannot be taken as a given. Current president of the Asian confederation, Bahrain’s Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, is thought to be a strong supporter of Blatter and his influence may mean that some of Asia’s 43 voting countries back Blatter to stay.

Desire for money, or the accumulation thereof, may be at the root of FIFA’s current problems. But on this score, Ali is unlikely to covet a single cent of lucrative sponsorship contracts from Coca-Cola, Adidas and a whole host of other world brands.

Being a member of the Jordanian royal family brings its perks. One of these is a seemingly unlimited campaign budget that’s allowed Prince Ali to canvas support across the globe visiting more countries than any other candidate. Although precise figures for Prince Ali’s personal wealth are unknown, Richest Celebrities puts the wealth of his older brother, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, at over $750 million.

The unsullied challenger also has the benefit of not coming encumbered with the Blatter baggage that weighs with the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Prince Ali wasn’t a member of FIFA when voting took place to select the Russian an Qatari host venues and was subsequently not one of the eligible voters in the final round of voting.

And just this week, when approached by a corrupt official who promised to “deliver” 47 votes for today’s presidential contest provided the money was right, Prince Ali didn’t hesitate in promptly reporting the matter to law enforcement authorities in Switzerland.

Like Blatter, Prince Ali comes from a military background. Blatter was formerly a colonel in a supply unit of the Swiss army with 3,000 men under his command. Prince Ali’s military career included a nine year stint as head of special security for the King of Jordan.

Blatter’s stubborn refusal to go might be indicative that his military background has instilled in him a dogged determination. But in Prince Ali, could the 79-year-old FIFA veteran finally have met his match?

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