THE stakes could not be higher. Ahead of today’s election in Zurich, Uefa chief Michel Platini says some European countries might quit Fifa and pull out of the World Cup if Sepp Blatter wins a fifth term as president of the world game’s governing body.
One man stands in Blatter’s way. The presidential election has come down to a straight fight between the Swiss incumbent and Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan. But can the youthful outsider – Prince Ali is 39 – gain enough support to oust the seemingly unbeatable Blatter, 40 years his senior?
Before the extraordinary events of Wednesday, that seemed unlikely. But following the dawn raids by Swiss authorities in Zurich and the FBI’s intervention, the odds on Prince Ali winning the Fifa vote have tumbled considerably. William Hill price the prince at 6/4, having been as long as 8/1 at the start of the week. Conversely, Sepp Blatter has drifted from 1/20 to 1/2 in the same time frame.
“This was a one-horse race at the start of the week but the recent scandal has rocked world football and rocked Blatter’s chances of winning the election,” said Joe Crilly, a spokesman for the bookmaker.
Nevertheless, Blatter remains odds on to win. Platini says he expects that a majority of European countries – at least 45 – will vote for the Jordanian royal but in the 209-nation election Blatter can count on widescale support from Africa, Asia and South America.
Prince Ali’s family have a distinguished history in sports administtration and he has been the Fifa vice-president for Asia since 2011.
His nomination was supported by England, Georgia, Malta, United States and Belarus.
As a former member of the Jordanian Special Forces, Prince Ali would appear to be ideally placed to deal with all the flak heading Fifa’s way in the near future.
In the wake of fresh corruption allegations emerging from separate inquiries by the US Department of Justice and the Swiss government, the organisation’s reputation is in tatters – but Prince Ali sees himself as the man to put things right.
After news broke on Wednesday of the arrests of football officials, Prince Ali spoke of bringing leadership that “accepts responsibility for its actions and does not pass blame...and restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world.”
It is a noble thought but he does have nobility in his blood – born in 1975 to the late King Hussein and Queen Alia of the Jordanian royal family with claims he is the 43rd-generation direct descendant of the prophet Mohammad.
Having been educated in Jordan, the UK and United States – apparently excelling in wrestling while at Salisbury School in Connecticut – he returned to England to join the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
A spell followed with the special forces and also as commander of His Majesty’s Special Security in the Royal Guards before he moved out of the military and into politics, becoming president of the Jordan Football Association in 1999 before being elected Fifa vice-president for Asia in 2011.
In his manifesto for the top job Fifa’s youngest vice-president and the youngest member of the Fifa executive committee talks about protecting the integrity of the game and championing human and labour rights – a hot topic because of the issues surrounding Qatar’s delivery of the 2022 World Cup.
“I am a straight-forward person with straight-forward ideas and ethics – a person who loves our sport,” he said.
“I believe in uncompromising integrity. In good leadership. In fair play.”
Everything, it would seem, Fifa has been lacking for a long time.
He was to be one of three candidates to stand against Blatter but Michael van Praag and Luis Figo both withdrew last week in a tactical move to concentrate all the anti-Blatter support.
A reformer but not as radical or outspoken as either Dutchman Van Praag or Portuguese great Figo, Prince Ali’s campaign promises included restoring continental rotation when choosing World Cup hosts and a call for an open debate among all Fifa members about changing the World Cup format beyond the 2022 tournament.
The prince has advocated increasing Fifa’s revenues by improving the reputation and brand to attract sponsors, a pledge tinged with irony following yesterday’s threats from blue-chip sponsors to stop backing the discredited world football governing body.
Ali also wants Fifa to fund scholarships for coaches to work in less-developed football countries and end what he says is a “culture of intimidation” within the organisation
“We need a change of culture and a departure from Fifa’s authoritarian approach to strategy,” he said.
Platini would echo that. The Uefa chief executive told Blatter directly in a meeting yesterday morning to stand down before the ballot – but the Fifa chief refused.
Platini was left to lament “too many scandals” and said “Fifa doesn’t deserve to be treated that way”.
With Fifa engulfed in the corruption scandal prompted by an investigation by US authorities, Platini also said pointedly that Ali “doesn’t need money because he is a prince”.
How today’s Fifa vote in Zurich will work
THE voting procedure at today’s Fifa presidential election in Zurich explained:
• Sepp Blatter and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein will both have opportunities to address the Fifa Congress.
• Each of Fifa’s 209 associations should have a vote, although a few can face disqualification for reasons such as not playing in competitions.
• If either candidate achieves two-thirds of the eligible vote in the first round then he wins outright – if there are 209 votes that means 139 to win outright.
• If there is no outright victory, the winner will simply be whoever gains more votes in the second round.
The men who ruled football
PAST presidents of Fifa include three Englishmen:
1904-06: Robert Guerin (France)
1906-18: Daniel Burley Woolfall (England)
1921-54: Jules Rimet (France)
1954-55: Rodolphe Seeldrayers, (Belgium)
1955-61: Arthur Drewry (England)
1961-74: Stanley Rous (England)
1974-98: Joao Havelange (Brazil)
1998-present: Sepp Blatter (Switzerland)