KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON —- Prince Ali of Jordan has issued an invitation – or challenge – for a round-table public debate between all the FIFA presidential candidates. Such a vehicle could be a TV forum streamed worldwide across the internet.
A conveniently ideal first opportunity would be during next month’s annual congress in Vienna of European federation UEFA.
Guaranteed present in their formal roles are FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Dutch FA chairman Michael Van Praag while obvious invitees would be Prince Ali, as Asia’s FIFA vice-president, and old Portuguese superstar Luis Figo.
These are the four men competing for the right to run the world game for the next four years after the election at FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29.
In London today Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein said: “I would like to see a public debate – including the incumbent – so everyone knows, across the world, what our positions are – and I’m ready to do that.”
The 39-year-old was launched his campaign formally by revealing, also, that his nominations emanated from three of the world game’s six regional confederations: Europe (Belarus, England, Georgia and Malta), Asia (Jordan, naturally, since he is president) and central and North America (United States).
He can use that starting point as a promotional advantage in establishing his credentials for the one worldwide challenger to Blatter by comparison with the eurocentric candidacies of Van Praag and Figo.
Prince Ali also confirmed that he would not be running this spring for any of the Asian confederation slots falling vacant on the FIFA executive committee. He said: “My total commitment is to run for the presidency of FIFA.”
In any case, there is no point in wasting time. Prince Ali has been squeezed out of the AFC power game already by its Bahraini president, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa who is a confirmed Blatter man.
Prince Ali expressed full confidence in a growing realisation among football associations around the world of a need for a change in the command and control of FIFA, both for its own sake but also for the sake of the scandal-battered image of the world federation after Blatter’s 17 years at the helm.
He also dismissed expressions of support for Blatter last June in Brazil from all the regional confederations, bar Europe, since none of the other candidates had declared themselves.
He said: “The campaign is going to be a big challenge. We have a lot to do until the election on May 29 and I am very confident in all our national associations and their presidents who want the best for football. I’m looking forward to taking up this challenge and, hopefully, leading the game to where it should be.”
‘Culture of intimidation’
Prince Ali acknowledged that he was competing against “a culture of intimidation within FIFA” which had stalled his own attempts, over the past four years, to “reform FIFA from within.”
He also dismissed suggestions that he was a ‘European’ candidate, saying: “I’m my own man with nomintions from three different confederations and I do appreciate the support of [UEFA president] Michel Platini. He’s been working side by side with me in the FIFA executive committee but this is a vote for the entire world game [about] what has to be done with FIFA.
“I don’t think it’s only in Europe that there are concerns about FIFA. I think it’s global . . . There is a desire for change and I am committed to that.”
Blatter remains overwhelming favourite but he has never faced a three-way challenge which will keep dissatisfaction with his reign – and his broken promise to retire – in the public eye.
Service not dictatorship
Prince Ali said: “I’ve been in football for many years as an association president and of the West Asia region . . . I started out working with our players and fans and understanding their needs and I want to bring that back.
“The owners of the game are the fans, players, team managers and so on and we need to reverse the pyramid. We are there to serve the game not dictate how things are done. We need to restore confidence and I think I can do that.”
Prince Ali did acknowledge that, in the campaigning, “an incumbent has a natural advantage” but he felt secure in his own reputation and hoped that the process “will work out in a way that’s fair and honest.”
“If that is the case,” said Prince Ali, “I’m very confident.”