Prince Ali of Jordan has confirmed publicly that he intends to gallop forth on another tilt at the FIFA presidential windmills.
The former Asian vice-president of the world football federation formalised in Amman the heavy hint which he dropped in Manchester at Soccerex on Monday that he is to pursue his second FIFA power bid in a year.
Three heavyweights are now in the race with the 39-year-old following the earlier expressions of ambition from Michel Platini, the French president of European governing body UEFA, and Chung Mong-joon, Prince Ali’s predecessor as the Asian Football Confederation’s FIFA vice-president.
Announcing the formal start of his campaign, Prince Ali said: “We must take back the game we love. We must return to what makes football the greatest sport on earth: hope, dignity, excellence and opportunity.
“Football is a game that transcends class, creed and national boundaries. My ambition now is to make FIFA worthy of representing the greatest sport and the greatest fans on the planet.”
Prince Ali arrived at football’s top table in the spring of 2011 after ending Chung’s 17-year tenure representing the AFC on the FIFA executive committee.
At that time Prince Ali benefited from the behind-the-scenes support of FIFA president Sepp Blatter but approval altered to antagonism after Prince Ali emerged as a reformist proponent of greater accountability and transparency.
A successful campaign to end restrictions on the wearing of headscarves by women at international level raised Prince Ali’s profile as did the outstanding grassroots development encouraged by his Asian Football Development Project.
However this all came at the cost of a loss of support from Blatter and the new Bahraini president of the AFC, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Hence Prince Ali launched his FIFA presidential this last January knowing full well that Asian support would be short on the ground.
In due course, he was indeed replaced as the AFC’s FIFA vice-president by Sheikh Salman who then also endorsed Blatter as Asia’s preferred leader.
Prince Ali’s initial competitors in the odds-against race to unseat Blatter were Holland’s Michael Van Praag and Portugal’s Luis Figo. Shortly before the vote in Zurich three-way talks ended in Van Praag and Figo withdrawing – misguidedly as it turned out – to assure Prince Ali a majority of Europe’s votes.
He gained 73 votes which denied Blatter a first-round knockout, gaining significantly from many FAs’ horror at the judicial tsunami generated by United States and Swiss law officers two days before the election.
With hindsight it is possible that, had Van Praag and Figo stayed in the race and not left Prince Ali to confront Blatter alone on stage at congress, he might have gained many more votes to further the embarrass the 79-year-old Swiss.
As it was Blatter, only four days later, announced his intention to step down and set in motion the train of events which created a patchwork, fast-track attempt at reform plus an extraordinary elective congress to choose a new president next February 26.
The nominations deadline is October 26 and Prince Ali would surely not have thrown his hat into the ring once again without believing he is assured the essential minimum of five formal notes of support. This time around, however, he faces the challenge of needing far more support from the farflung corners of the FIFA empire; a majority of Europe’s votes are assured for Platini.
Prince Ali’s philosophy, which will underpin his manifesto, have not changed one iota. As he told the Soccerex Global Convention on Monday he wants “to change the entire way FIFA is run.”
He said: “Unfortunately we’ve lost a year in terms of reforming FIFA but hopefully, come February, we can have a new beginning. We have to look to the future and we have very little time. The whole world is watching and the reputation of FIFA is very poor.
“We have to take the locks off the doors and open the windows. There is no need for secrecy. People want to know what we are, who we are, how the money is spent, how much we are paid and that is transparency and openness.
“It’s OK to ask for truly independent outside bodies to help us out in reforming the organisation and if we do that correctly we will get our sponsors much more excited. Right now they are hesitant about FIFA and that’s a real shame.”
Prince Ali also expressed the idealistic hope that the election campaign would be clean and clear and free of intimidation though, with allegations of ‘dirty tricks’ already abounding, that is beyond unlikely.
On Monday he said: “We need a candidate who is forward thinking, who will bring some new ideas and is not tainted by the past.”
Now, as Prince Ali has confirmed, he believes he is still that specific candidate.