FIFA VP Prince Ali launches presidential bid against Blatter
GENEVA (AP) Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein has a daunting task ahead of him as he bids to end Sepp Blatter's 17-year grip on power at FIFA.
The 39-year-old prince from Jordan announced Tuesday he will be a candidate for the FIFA presidency even though five of the six continental confederations have already declared their support for Blatter.
The rebellious region - European governing body UEFA - holds only 53 of the 209 votes and includes traditionally loyal Blatter supporters among former Soviet republics.
Prince Ali also cannot be sure of widespread support within his home Asian Football Confederation, where he faces an awkward election in May before FIFA's decision day.
Still, the prince represents a genuine choice for FIFA voters who truly want to freshen the culture of an organization rocked by scandals on Blatter's watch.
Elected by Asian members as their FIFA vice president in January 2011, Prince Ali is untouched by the allegations of bribery and favor-seeking that tainted many of his colleagues on the much-discredited, Blatter-chaired executive committee, which he formally joined later that year.
''This was not an easy decision,'' the prince said in a single-page statement in which he pledged to run a positive campaign and did not specifically mention Blatter. ''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.''
Prince Ali has been encouraged to run by UEFA President Michel Platini, who opted last year to avoid an expected challenge to his onetime mentor Blatter.
''I know Prince Ali well. He has all the credibility required to hold high office,'' the France great said in a statement. ''We now await his proposals and his program for the future of football.''
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Blatter's office.
Prince Ali is considered the main challenger to Blatter. Jerome Champagne of France, a former FIFA staffer and longtime ally of Blatter, has also announced his intention to run.
During Blatter's 17-year reign, he has avoided personal scandal amid bribery allegations in presidential and World Cup hosting elections, kickbacks paid to senior officials, and World Cup ticket scams.
Blatter has also mastered the politics of an often secretive organization he joined in 1975, a few months before Prince Ali was born. The veteran Swiss official has said his mission to lead world football is unfinished.
That mission is fuelled by a runway popular and commercial success of FIFA's cash cow, the World Cup.
The world's most-watched sports event has given FIFA $1.5 billion in cash reserves with plenty more to give members and confederations every four years ahead of election day.
`'Rest assured, the 11 members in this room are the first in line,'' Oceania confederation president David Chung said last June, pledging his voters' support to Blatter in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
It's against this culture - and Blatter's long relationship with voters, such as the 54 in Africa who have little contact with Jordan - that Prince Ali must compete.
Prince Ali did not specify which five FIFA members will nominate him, as required before a Jan. 29 deadline. He traveled Tuesday to Australia for the Asian Cup, which kicks off Friday after an AFC congress in Melbourne.
AFC president Sheik Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain pledged its backing for Blatter at a 60th anniversary celebration at Manila in November, confirming earlier support in Brazil.
''It was a unanimous decision,'' Salman said at the time. ''We never go back on our words and commitments, that's how we are.''
Last June in Brazil, Sheik Salman also effectively maneuvered Prince Ali out of his FIFA vice presidency by tying that role to the AFC presidency at future elections. Those are next due in May, when Prince Ali should contest an ordinary FIFA board seat as one of Asia's four elected delegates.
While others in Asia have shaped internal politics, Prince Ali has taken a more personal path in development projects for youth and women's football. Previously, he led a successful campaign to lift a FIFA ban on female Islamic players wearing headscarves in its competitions.
The theme of public service follows a Jordanian royal family tradition for the son of the late King Hussein and the late Queen Alia, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977.
Educated at schools in England and the United States, Prince Ali attended the elite Sandhurst military academy in England before joining his country's armed forces.
His sister, Princess Haya, stepped down last month as an International Olympic Committee member after eight years as president of equestrian's governing body, and their half-brother Prince Faisal remains an IOC member.
Prince Ali was a vocal supporter of FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia, who resigned last month with a parting shot at Blatter's leadership style and the organization's seeming unwillingness to reform.
On Tuesday, Prince Ali called for shifting focus ''away from administrative controversy and back to sport.''
''The world's game deserves a world-class governing body - an international federation that is a service organization and a model of ethics, transparency and good governance,'' Prince Ali said.
However noble the aim, it is unclear that FIFA voters feel the same way.