KEIR RADNEDGE at the DEAD SEA —- FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali has pointed up democracy denial as a major issue the world game needs to address.

Prince Ali bin Al Hussein was addressing the opening session of the Soccerex Asian Forum at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre on the banks of the Dead Sea, Jordan.

The other three contenders – president Sepp Blatter, Dutchman Michael Van Praag and Portugal’s Luis Figo – for the top job in world football had all declined invitations to attend and speak.

Prince Ali at Soccerex . . . vision for the world game

However that courtesy had not been offered to Prince Ali, Van Praag and Figo at the recent confederation congress in Africa, South America and Central/North America (Ironically CONCACAF’s president is Jeffrey Webb who heads up FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force).

Blatter was allowed to address each one in his role as FIFA president and angered his rivals by talking development funds in at least two of them. Prince Ali, Van Praag and Figo were permitted to address only the UEFA European Congress.

Last week Prince Ali, the outgoing Asian vice-president of FIFA and head of the Jordan FA, was denied the opportunity to address even his own Asian confederation’s congress. Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is a declared Blatter-backer ahead of the election at FIFA Congress on May 29.

Question time

Today Prince Ali complained: “Our continent is about dignity and respect. Hospitality is also crucial for us, and for me it was shocking that Europe (UEFA) invited us all to take the stage but when others came to my continent they were not given that chance.

“Even if I wasn’t running myself, I would have made sure that you’d get all four candidates on the stage with the chance to ask them questions and get to know what their programmes are, and to see where we can benefit and base our decisions on that.

“Unfortunately that was not the case, not even in my own confederation. Obviously it was not just Asia but in other confederations as well, apart from UEFA.

“I am concerned that if that attitude takes place at the top level of football, what does that mean for national associations themselves?

“On the one hand you say as a national association you have to be democratic but you don’t apply it to the top level of football? And that’s a big problem I see.”

Prince Ali added: “The reasoning was that the incumbent was speaking only as the president of FIFA and not campaigning when we could all pretty much see that there was some campaigning going on.”

Learning curve

One of the benefits from his four years in FIFA, said Prince Ali, had been learning about the day-to-day grassroots challenges facing many federations, particularly the poorest, in terms of development, resources and infrastucture.

All three rivals to Blatter have campaigned that FIFA should increase its development investment – among various other steps. But Prince Ali insisted that the national associations, at their congresses, had a right to hear what was being put on the electoral table.

He said: “At the end of day we all have different approaches; we come from different schools of thought whether it’s the incumbent, Van Praag, Figo or myself but this is an opportunity that happens only once every four years.

“That’s democracy: to listen and to learn for people to choose who they want based on that. I am concerned that if that [silencing] attitude takes place at the top level of football, what does that mean for national associations themselves?

“We have to be a lot more open and transparent in how we do things. There’s nothing to hide – or there shouldn’t be. We have to have a stronger regional voice. You cannot run everything from Zurich.”

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