Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Asian vice-president of the world football federation, has announced his intention to challenge long-serving Sepp Blatter for the leadership of FIFA next May.
Blatter, who stepped up from chief executive and general secretary in 1998, has made plain his intention to seek a fifth four-year term in office even though he will be 79 by the time congress comes around and in defiance of all the crises and scandals to assail FIFA on his watch.
Until now only one rival had been declared in the form of Jerome Champagne, former French diplomat who spent 11 years in senior roles within the FIFA machine until being ousted in January 2010 after losing one political battle too many.
Prince Ali, 39, has ruffled feathers among the old guard of the the FIFA executive committee with his reformist views and knows he will face an uphill struggle not only in taking on Blatter but even in pulling in significant support from his own Asian Football Confederation constituency.
Undeterred, however, he said: “I am seeking the presidency of FIFA because I believe it is time to shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport.
“This was not an easy decision. It came after careful consideration and many discussions with respected FIFA colleagues over the last few months.
“The message I heard, over and over, was that it is time for a change. The world’s game deserves a world-class governing body — an International Federation that is a service organisation and a model of ethics, transparency and good governance.
“The headlines should be about football, not about FIFA.
“FIFA exists to serve a sport which unites billions of people from all over the world, people of differing and divergent political, religious and social affiliations, who come together in their enjoyment of ‘the world’s game.’”
Prince Ali’s intervention has come 23 days ahead of the deadline of January 29 for the registration of candidates. He will be assured of widespread support from within European federation UEFA whose senior figures are angry that Blatter changed his mind after promising in 2011 not to stand again.
However UEFA struggled to find a willing candidate from within its own ranks with even president Michel Platini deciding he would seek a third term leading his own federation rather than running against Blatter for the FIFA top job. That, in itself, indicates how intimidating the Europeans found the prospect of trying to oust the long-serving Swiss.
Prince Ali made his announcement three days before an extraordinary congress in Australia of the AFC whose own president, Sheikh Salman Ebrahim at Khalifa, has already declared both personal and confederation support for Blatter.
Sheikh Salman angered Prince Ali last year when he persuaded the AFC to abolish the independence of the FIFA vice-presidency and turn the role into the right of Asian president. This meant that Prince Ali’s first four-year term of office will also be his last and come to an end at FIFA Congress in Zurich in May.
Indeed, the powerful opposition of both Sheikh Salman and his Kuwaiti mentor, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, means Prince Ali might even find it difficult to obtain support to retain his FIFA exco place as a ‘simple’ AFC delegate.
Hence he has nothing to lose by taking on Blatter and, through his current exco status, will be considered by many as a more dangerous rival than Champagne.