Prince Ali challenges Blatter's throne, but odds are in FIFA president's favor
Four years ago, one of the candidates who stood against Sepp Blatter in the FIFA presidential election came from this parish. Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl stood on a manifesto for change but he was unable to gain the five votes from national associations to get as far as the electoral process. (The other candidate, Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, dropped hours before he faced an ethics committee hearing into bribery claims.)
With the 2015 election slated for May, and the deadline to declare running set for January 29, there are already three candidates in the race with the latest, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, announcing Tuesday that he will run. Former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne is already trying to run on the ‘reform’ ticket but the idea that reformists will split the anti-Blatter vote and allow the incumbent an easy win might not hold true.
Instead, there is a chance that Champagne will be the biggest loser following Prince Ali’s announcement. Prince Ali is a far more viable candidate, and there is no guarantee that Champagne will garner the five votes needed to run for election (unless you believe the conspiracy theorists that Champagne is a patsy for Blatter). The decision will also make other potential candidates, among them former Chile FA president Harold Maynes-Nicholls, and CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, think twice about standing.
Prince Ali could end up as the lone challenger to Blatter. But does he have a chance?
His work in Asia has been widely noted this week: he has been Jordan’s FA president since 1999, has represented Asia as a FIFA vice president in 2011, founded the West Asia football federation in 2012 and set up the non-profit organization Asian Football Development Project in 2012.
He led the campaign to lift the ban on female Islamic players wearing headscarves during competition, increased the number of countries competing in the AFC Champions League, and won hosting rights for Jordan to stage the Under-17 Women’s World Cup next year. But even that roll call of achievements might not be enough for Prince Ali to secure the bulk of the vote in Asia, his own confederation.
Here is a breakdown of the challenges that Prince Ali faces in each confederation:
AFC (Asia, 47 nations)
You would think that Prince Ali would have an easy ride in his home confederation, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Asia vote could be decisive in this election and, at the moment, Blatter has the advantage. The reason? The current AFC president is Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who last year changed the policy ensuring that the president will now also sit on the executive committee, which means he will take Prince Ali’s elected place at FIFA’s head table later this year.
Shaikh Salman swapped compliments with Blatter at an awards dinner last month and said that the AFC would support him standing for a fifth term.
“Our growth in world football can also be credited to the dynamic relationship that the AFC has with FIFA under the guidance of Mr. Blatter,” he said in a statement.
If Prince Ali is to change that, he needs support from Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, a political heavyweight in the region who helped Prince Ali beat Chung Mong-joon for the FIFA vice presidency in 2011.
If Sheikh Ahmad supports Prince Ali again, and the waters have been muddied since he backed Shaikh Salman, it could change the outcome in the region.
As things stand, Prince Ali will find support from reformist nations like Japan, South Korea and Australia but struggle to win a majority.
Predicted winner: Blatter
UEFA (Europe, 54 nations)
The only confederation not to come out and back Blatter, UEFA is expected to support Prince Ali, especially after president Michel Platini reacted to the news by saying: “He has all the credibility required to hold high office.”
If anything, Prince Ali’s stand helps him out; Platini does not want to put his head above the parapet just yet as he would not win an election this year, but has more chance of winning in 2019 if he chose to stand. That said, as one lawyer close to FIFA House asked SI.com last year, “Why move to the emperor’s palace when you are king in the strongest kingdom?”
Prince Ali can expect votes from England, whose FA president Greg Dyke said: “FIFA's reputation is one of a suspect organization where there has been an awful lot of corruption, and that can only be rebuilt if there's a new leadership."
He can also expect support from Holland, where the Dutch federation's Michael van Praag said: “I also told [Blatter], and that is my true opinion, that people don't take him seriously anymore.”
Blatter will get support from Russia, who will host the 2018 World Cup (especially with Gazprom now a FIFA sponsor), eastern Europe, and possibly Spain, whose FA president Angel Maria Villar Lona is a long-time ally.
Predicted winner: Prince Ali
CONCACAF (North, Central America; Carribean, 41 nations)
This confederation could be a tough one to call, because two of the most outspoken critics of Blatter hail from CONCACAF: Cayman Islander Webb, who is CONCACAF president, and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who last year had been approached to run as well.
While those two have strong power bases, do not underestimate Blatter’s Caribbean connections. There are 31 votes from the Caribbean, and while the days of Jack Warner are gone, the islands have long supported the Swiss. This one could go either way.
Predicted winner: Split vote
CAF (Africa, 56 nations)
This is the biggest problem for Prince Ali, as it is the most populous confederation, and Blatter seemingly has it tied up.
“Africa will offer unanimous support to FA president Sepp Blatter at the next elective assembly," CAF general secretary Hicham el Amrani announced last September.
After last year’s general assembly back in June, the CAF hit out at the corruption reports in The Sunday Times, suggesting it was “persistent manipulation aimed at portraying to the international community that Africa played a preponderant role in voting the candidature of Qatar 2022.”
President Issa Hayatou has thanked Blatter in the past for his “continuous involvement in the development of football in Africa and his personal commitment to the fight against racism.”
It’s hard to see how Prince Ali can make a dent in this confederation, and that will cost him dearly.
Predicted winner: Blatter
CONMEBOL (South America, 10 nations)
There was a change in the power structure in South America after last year’s death of Julio Grondona, who had been Argentine FA president since 1978. Eugenio Figueredo (Uruguay) took his place as FIFA vice president, while Jose Angel Napout (Paraguay) is now CONMEBOL president.
He left no one in any doubt that he would be voting the same way as Grondona, telling the press last November that all member associations in South America would be voting for Blatter.
Predicted winner: Blatter
OFC (Oceania, 11 nations)
Oceania president David Chung pledged the region's support for Blatter's candidacy, telling him: “rest assured, the 11 members in this room are the first in line."
In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, he explained why: “Because Oceania has come a long way. When Blatter took over, Oceania had a deficit of $1 million. He has supported us and Oceania has benefited a lot from development programmes - 90 to 95 percent of our funding comes from FIFA."
Blatter has overseen more than $120 million from FIFA in funding for the region. In recent years, Tahaiti played in the 2013 Confederations Cup, Hekari United was in the 2010 Club World Cup (where there is now always an Oceania representative) while Vanuatu is a leading futsal nation and Tahiti reached the beach soccer World Cup semifinals in 2013. Crucially, Blatter has also said that he wants to change Oceania’s 0.5 place at World Cups to a full place.
"Blatter agrees in principle and verbally he promised he will fight for us," said Chung. "Whether it comes to reality or not is another question but we will see.”
All in all, it’s wrapped up for Sepp.
Predicted winner: Blatter
While Prince Ali’s decision to stand may be a popular one in western Europe, and some parts of Asia and the Americas, the prospect of a new FIFA president after the May elections remains a distant one. Expect Blatter to ride out a few more storms and receive the mandate for another four years.