Jordan’s Maverick Prince Ali to Run Against Blatter for FIFA Presidency

Prince Ali
FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein (L), FIFA's vice president Asia, chairman of the Jordan Football Association, hold a joint news conference in Amman May 26, 2014. Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein announced on Tuesday that he is standing in May’s election to become the president of FIFA, the world football governing body.

The 39-year-old Prince Ali made public his intention to oust incumbent FIFA president Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter in a press statement, despite the fact the 79-year-old Swiss currently has his eyes set on a fifth consecutive term as president.

“This was not an easy decision,” Prince Ali wrote of his choice to stand in the 29th May election against 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.”

The Jordanian royal is currently both the president of the Jordanian Football Association and the West Asian Football Federation, as well as being the vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation.

Prince Ali is a popular figure in the Middle East, partly due to the fact that he successfully championed lifting the ban on women players wearing the hijab on the pitch, which helped to increase the number of women participating in the sport in Islamic countries.

The prince is also believed to be a favourite of FIFA’s European branch - UEFA, according to BBC Football analyst Mani Djazmi, after the UEFA president Michel Platini revoked his previous support for Sepp Blatter in June over FIFA’s transparency.

Blatter has presided over the rapid decline of FIFA’s image in the last few years, as corruption scandals and resignations of highly placed officials has led to many fans of the sport call for his removal after 17 years on the job.

By contrast, Prince Ali’s expressed his desire to change the image and dynamic of the governing body, bringing attention back to the sport of football as opposed to controversies surrounding its officials.

"It is time to shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport. The headlines should be about football, not about FIFA," he said.

The latest scandal to hit Blatter’s career came in November, when a heavily edited version of a report on corruption in FIFA was published. Michael Garcia, the attorney who carried out the full length report, spoke out saying that the published version was full of “erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions”.

The report was never released in full, and the summary focused disproportionately on evidence for wrongdoing by countries such as England and Australia, which had been rejected by FIFA to host tournaments, while neglecting to shine much detail on the controversial decisions to host the next two world cups in Russia and Qatar.

Unlike Blatter, Prince Ali called for the report to be released in full.

Prince Ali, who was orphaned at age two in 1977 when both his parents died in a helicopter crash, already holds France’s highest state award, the Légion d'honneur. He is fluent in English having been educated in the US and UK, after which he joined the Jordanian army where he rose to the rank of brigadier.

The only other candidate for Blatter’s position is 56-year-old former French diplomat Jérôme Champagne. Champagne has been close to the centre of power in FIFA since joining in 1999, serving as a longtime ally of Blatter’s. He has worked as the president’s international adviser for three years, delegate of the president for two years, as well as deputy secretary general of FIFA and director of international relations for another six years under Blatter’s reign.

Late last year Blatter was chased out of a university auditorium in his native Switzerland by student activists protesting the financial burden put on Brazil after FIFA had chosen the country as the host of the last World Cup in the summer of 2014.