If any prospect ever existed of a debate between the FIFA presidency candidates then the one and only realistic opportunity may just have presented itself.
Many leaders of the world game will gather on the eastern banks of the Dead Sea in Jordan on May 3-4 at an Asian Forum conference organised by Soccerex in co-operation with the Asian Football Development Project.
Intense football and media focus is inevitable because the forum is being staged just over three weeks before FIFA president Sepp Blatter faces a congress re-election challenge from Asia’s FIFA vice-president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, Dutch FA chairman Michael Van Praag and ex-Portugal captain Luis Figo.
Certain to be there is Prince Ali: the AFDP is his brainchild and he is president of the Jordan Football Association. Soccerex will certainly invite the other two plus Blatter in what – considering a busy spring calendar – may be the only realistic opportunity of gathering them all in one studio.
Prince Ali was the first to propose a televised debate between the candidates when he launched his campaign on February 3; Van Praag and Figo are understood to be in favour.
Blatter is the only man to have expressed derisive opposition.
Like most incumbents facing election, Blatter considers he has nothing to gain from submitting himself to three-way attacking fire and would even be ceding status unnecessarily to his challengers.
Whatever his reasons, Blatter’s refusal to embrace a debate would make him an easy target for critics of his presidential style and the compromised attitude of ‘his’ FIFA to the concept of transparency.
A televised debate, streamed on the internet to set the arguments and issues before the world’s fans, is favoured by Vero Communications. Mike Lee, with a notable track record in the sports campaign business, is chairman of the London marketing operator which works closely not only with UEFA but with the campaigns of both Prince Ali and Figo.
The Soccerex Asian Forum, following up on last year’s successful initial event, was to have been staged in April but the date has been altered after CONCACAF (the central and North American confederation) advanced its own congress to April.
Extending the significance of the new Soccerex date, the forum will come only two days after the Asian conference congress in Manama, Bahrain.
This will feature a closely-fought election battle of its own for slots on the FIFA executive committee. Also, Prince Ali will have been served formal notice that his single-term tenure as the AFC’s FIFA vice-president is at an end; AFC president Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa has snaffled the role for himself.
The extension of the Soccerex ’empire’ into the Middle East in particular and Asia in general underlines the growing significance of the region in both the sport and sports business spheres.
Company ceo Duncan Revie said: “The aim of the Soccerex Asian Forum is to promote the development of football and football business in Asia, through providing a platform for the whole world of football to gather in Jordan.”
Explaining the timing switch, he added: “The rescheduling of the CONCACAF Congress meant that it would be very difficult for many of the decision makers from this important region, and the industry worldwide, to attend the Asian Forum.
“With this in mind, following discussion with our partners, we have taken the decision to move the Asian Forum to the new dates of the May 3 and 4.”