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FIFA Vice-President Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein Set to Challenge Sepp Blatter

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“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”. 

FIFA vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan has announced that he will challenge Sepp Blatter for the presidency of FIFA. Up till now only Jérôme Champagne has publicly thrown his hat into the ring to oppose Blatter for FIFA’s top job.

“This was not an easy decision,” said Prince Ali “It came after careful consideration and many discussions with respected FIFA colleagues over the last few months. The message I heard, over and over, was that it is time for a change. The world game deserves a world-class governing body – an International Federation that is a service organization and a model of ethics, transparency and good governance.”

Whilst not mentioning Blatter by name Prince Ali has pinpointed the key weakness of the incumbent’s presidency, scandal. It is also interesting that Prince Ali’s statement contrasts with Blatter’s assertion that a number of FIFA delegates pleaded with the Swiss to ‘please go on—please be our president in the future’.

For all the talk about publishing Michael Garcia’s report, ethics committees and reforms the most realistic way for FIFA to change its practices and image is for the organization’s younger administrators to take control of it. Only then can there be a real opportunity for football’s governing body to redefine itself.

Prince Ali will have the support of most UEFA nations (Russia probably being a notable exception) with Michel Platini publically backing his bid.

“I know Prince Ali well. He has all the credibility required to hold high office. We now await his proposals and his programme for the future of football,” said the UEFA president.

However the Jordanian may not receive the complete support from the associations of his own confederation, the AFC. The president of the AFC, Sheikh Salman Ebrahim al-Khalifa, is a Blatter supporter and has already thrown his weight behind the incumbent’s re-election bid. Shaka Hislop, who believes Blatter will be re-elected, asked why Prince Ali is going against his own confederation’s wishes and noted that the challenger’s most vocal supporters have come from the European governing body UEFA.

Still Prince Ali would not have declared an interest in contesting the top job in FIFA if he didn’t believe that he had a chance of winning.

Gabriele Marcotti recently listed his 30 wishes for football in 2015. With Prince Ali standing, Marcotti’s wish of a ‘credible’ candidate opposing Blatter has come true. Prince Ali though would be wise to take heed of another of Marcotti’s wishes, namely to understand why the current president keeps getting re-elected.

Before Blatter came along smaller, poorer FIFA members who had little to no chance of qualifying for the World Cup were ignored by the organization. Marcotti described FIFA in its pre-Blatter days as a purely ‘Europe-South America “old boys’” club’. Blatter, for all his numerous faults, ensured a redistribution of FIFA’s income to smaller football associations who have in return backed him.  As Marcotti pointed out anyone who wishes to defeat Blatter needs to realize the importance of this.

Prince Ali, 39, will also need to be wise to Blatter’s political skills. The 79-year-old is a FIFA veteran; indeed Blatter joined FIFA before the Jordanian prince was even born. Though Prince Ali has a background in football administration, he became President of the Jordanian FA in 1999 as well as the West Asian Football Federation a group he founded in 2001, his experience of FIFA’s machinations does not compare with Blatter’s. You can call Blatter many things, he has been labeled most things under the sun, but you cannot deny that he’s a wily operator.

So what does Prince Ali have going for him? He is untainted by scandal thus far having only been appointed to the Executive Committee in 2011 and was one of the leading voices demanding for the publication of Michael Garcia’s report after the farrago that was Judge Hans-Joachim Eckhert’s initial summary.

The make-up of the current FIFA Executive Committee is different from the group that was involved in the 2018/2022 World Cup vote in 2010. Only 11 (including Blatter) of the current 25 Executive Committee members were part of that process. Of those 11, three are still under investigation for their roles in 2018/2022 World Cup bidding campaign, they are: Ángel Mária Villa Llona, Michel D’Hooghe and Worawi Makudi. In short there is already a new group within the Executive Committee who can start to change the culture of FIFA if only in incremental steps.

For example the Executive Committee did agree unanimously to publish an ‘appropriate’ version of Michael Garcia’s report but that’ll only come out after the cases against Llona, D’Hooghe and Makudi have been dealt with. It’s not a huge leap forward but it is a step in the right direction.

Whilst it is encouraging that there seems to be a genuine challenger for the presidency that doesn’t mean Prince Ali can sweep into office on a wave of Blatter fatigue. As Marcotti stated Prince Ali has to present a clear vision, challenge the incumbent, tackle the big issues and detail how he will reform FIFA for the better to be a real alternative to Blatter, who let’s not forget is popular with many associations. Prince Ali saying all the right things with regards to transparency, ethics and good governance but talking about it and doing something about it are different things entirely.

He has already shown a distaste for FIFA’s internal politics when Mohammed Bin Hammam was connected to bribery allegations.

“I didn’t play a part in it and I don’t want to play a part in it in the future,”  he said in 2011.

Unfortunately, for Prince Ali he may need to play the political game in order to achieve his ultimate goal. The worry for him, or any other candidate for that matter, is if victorious can he change FIFA or will FIFA change him?

Sepp Blatter going away will not remedy FIFA’s operational culture overnight and any attempts at reform will likely be met with resistance. This is an organization shaped by Blatter (and his predecessor João Havelange) over decades so any change to the governance football’s world governing body will probably need to be done incrementally rather than in one big swoop.

He will also have to deal with Blatter’s legacy that are the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Realistically, Prince Ali cannot take the World Cup hosting rights away from either Russia or Qatar unless something monumental happens between now and then.

In fairness to Blatter he wanted the 2022 World Cup to be held in the United States whilst his biggest critic Michel Platini plumped for Qatar. Again it has to be stressed that ousting Sepp Blatter will not immediately lead to good governance.

Indeed the World Cup in Qatar poses an additional hurdle for Prince Ali. Despite the controversy surrounding the 2022 tournament from the bidding process to the abuse of migrant labour will Prince Ali have the stomach or will to take away the World Cup from his own region let alone his own confederation?

Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little. It will be a tall order to defeat Sepp Blatter as most confederations have thrown their support behind him. Though there has been call for change externally there still appears to be little appetite for substantive reform within the organization.

Perhaps Prince Ali’s biggest chance stems from the culture of self-interest FIFA has cultivated over decades. If football associations privately believe that it would be in their best interest to topple Blatter they will do so without any hint of sentimentality.

A few months ago I wrote about the need for Sepp Blatter to be challenged. At the very least Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein’s announcement has ensured that the next Presidential election won’t be another coronation.

This election will feature a generational contrast between the 39-year-old Prince and the 79-year-old President.  That’s not to forget Jérôme Champagne bid too, the Frenchman has been quick to point out that he is the only candidate to have outlined a vision for the future of FIFA.

To a degree perhaps Blatter has more to lose from this election than either of the two candidates. The FIFA presidency has come to define Blatter so losing that would effectively strip him of his identity. Jérôme Champagne has already benefited from his campaign as his profile has been raised so even if he loses out this time around, as seems likely, he’s made himself more relevant in football circles again. Prince Ali’s four year term as a FIFA vice-president will end in May so aiming for the presidency may not be as daring a gambit as it first seems. He already has gained kudos for being a ‘credible’ alternative to Blatter so even if he loses in the short term he has could still benefit from the campaign in the long run.

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