KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS : The three challengers to Sepp Blatter’s bid to win a fifth term as FIFA president meet in Nyon today to discuss the route to the world federation’s election congress in Zurich on May 29.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Dutch federation president Michael Van Praag and Portugal’s former World Player of the Year Luis Figo all numbered European federations among their nomination supporters in January.
The ‘multi-ball’ election strategy had been devised at Nyon, within the headquarters of UEFA, after European federation president Michel Platini refused to back his critical words of Blatter with deeds and stand himself.
Observers had always expected that, in the last weeks of the campaign, the trio would meet to discuss which one might go forward to take on Blatter. Both Prince Ali, FIFA’s outgoing Asian vice-president. and Van Praag had accepted the need for talks.
As for anyone stepping out, it’s not quite as simple as that.
Drawing up a defining closing strategy presents several complications.
One is the fact that, whether one or three go all the way Blatter remains overwhelming favourite to extend a FIFA presidential mandate which has lasted since 1998; hence, at least two of his rivals might feel they have nothing to lose anyway by remaining in the race.
Prince Ali, the only one of the three to have served on the FIFA executive committee since 2011, is also the one candidate likely to draw support from several of the FIFA regions.
The United States was one of Prince Ali’s stated nomination supporters along with his own Jordanian federation (of which he is president) . The 39-year-old also believes he can pick up other support within Asia even though the AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has pledged his own and AFC support to Blatter.
Van Praag is comparatively unknown beyond Europe though he has claimed election support from Surinam, in football’s central American sphere, largely because of its close historical links with Holland; Figo believes he will gain support from among Portugal’s former African territories such as Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé & Príncipe.
However, a clear indication of the way the general wind is blowing emanated from the confederations of Africa, Central/North America and Asia which all refused to allow the trio to join Blatter in addressing their recent congresses.
Discrimination at work
The snub delivered by CONCACAF was especially and painfully ironic because its president is Jeffrey Webb who heads FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.
A further factor concerns how supporters of any of the three would react to ‘their man’ pulling out. There is no guarantee that Figo’s backers, for example, would not revert to the African confederation’s status quo and switch to Blatter rather than to Prince Ali or Van Praag.
The same applies to supporters of the latter pair who might feel it makes no political sense to oppose Blatter’s continuance in power.
In that case the three might agree it makes more sense for them all to take their votes into the election and thus offer congress and the game at large a joint expression of significant impatience with Blatter within his ‘FIFA family.’
Even preventing Blatter winning in the first round would send a powerful message.