The prince and the president: Ali’s plans to replace Sepp Blatter as head of FIFA

It’s hard to cast a member of the Jordanian royal family, given the power, wealth, prestige and influence such a position holds, as a latter-day David.

But even Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, the son of a Middle Eastern king, might appear small before  the entrenched political power of Sepp Blatter, the Goliath of global football politics.

Yet the 39-year-old prince, a former student at the UK’s elite army officer academy Sandhurst, has shown the backbone that the Old Testament upstart did when confronting his powerful adversary.

Prince Ali has put himself forward as a candidate to replace the 78-year-old Swiss as president when FIFA elections take place in May on a ticket of reform, transparency and honesty – all words that increasingly ring hollow when applied to football’s global governing body.

Blatter, a master manipulator and one of the shrewdest appliers of the art of realpolitik in the sporting world, appeared set to ride out the storms of controversy which have broken following corruption allegations and a litany of other criticisms relating to the way FIFA has conducted its affairs in the past decade – specifically following the organisation’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

The septuagenarian had gone back on his word – he had earlier promised not to stand for a fifth term as FIFA president – and, with the absence of a challenger of substance, he looked set to continue his reign for another four years.

Prince Ali is still an outsider, but, after announcing his candidacy at the start of the year, he will now embark on a footballing diplomatic offensive, talking, listening, persuading and absorbing messages from supporters and those he must convert if he is to have any chance of pulling off an upset win when the decision over the FIFA presidency is taken in five months time.

The prince is in Australia at the moment for the opening of the Asian Cup, where his nation, Jordan, is in a group comprising Japan, Palestine and Iraq.

While he is here for the football, he is also here for the politicking – and he spoke on Saturday to a round table of Australian and overseas media outlining the simple themes behind his message for change.

A long time Arsenal supporter, the father of two acknowledges that it is an uphill struggle. Earlier this week, senior figures from the Asian Football Confederation, headed by Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, pledged their support for Blatter, saying they had already committed their vote to the much-pilloried figurehead of football and would not be going back on their word.

Still, Prince Ali looked unconcerned on Saturday when he said he was putting himself forward because it was time for a major change in the way the game was run and administered.

FIFA needed more transparency, he said, and should be an organisation with nothing to hide. He has already called for the Garcia report to be made public – something FIFA is unwilling to do in full – and says a raft of changes are needed to pull the organisation into the 21st century.

“I think that there is a consensus from a number of people in the football world that we need to make a positive change to evolve the organisation and have an opportunity to develop in an appropriate way. I am willing to do this [challenge Blatter] to help progress the sport in the proper way.

“I know its a very big challenge [but] I have total faith in the football world. In the coming months I am looking to sit down and talk to all our member associations and listen to them first.

“I am not coming here to dictate, but I have programs I want to implement. There’s a lot more we can do to develop the sport.”

The prince says that he is not seeking to take charge for the long term, seeing himself as a circuit-breaker to facilitate root-and-branch change in an organisation that has become ossified and tainted by the allegations of sleaze and corruption which have dogged it in the Blatter era.

“I think that anyone who is a stakeholder in the game needs to feel confident in FIFA … I want to bring back confidence, I am looking to make a real change. That’s why I am putting my hat in the ring.

“I honestly think we can make that change in a proper and appropriate way. Reform is crucial.

“At the end of the day we should have nothing to hide.

“FIFA as an organisation tends to be a bit secretive. We should be open and happy and confident to be engaged with everyone. We have to bring the administration of the sport into the current time we live in.”

Prince Ali’s candidature has been seen as a front for interests in the background, senior European figures who want Blatter gone but are not prepared to challenge themselves.

He says that he is acting on his own behalf.

“This sport is for the world, I am my own man. I have had a lot of encouragement from many people round the world who care about the sport. I am not worrying about the numbers. I have total faith in them [FIFA Congress members] that they are decent people who will vote for the future of football. This is a matter for the entire world.

“We have to really focus on restoring people’s confidence in the organisation. I will never make promises that I can’t deliver on.”

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