Ali needs Asia support

2015-01-08 10:12
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein (File)

London - Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein's bid to oust Sepp Blatter and become the first Asian president of FIFA will get a huge boost on Friday if he can convince members of his Asian confederation to support him in May's election.

That is no foregone conclusion, however, given internecine political squabbles within the Asian body.

The 39-year-old Jordanian, advocating reform, transparency and a new way forward for soccer's largely discredited world governing body, has emerged as a credible challenger to Blatter, who will be 79 when he stands for a fifth term at FIFA's Congress in Zurich.

If the votes were cast today then Prince Ali would almost certainly lose by about 120 votes to 90.

But a lot can happen in the coming months and if Prince Ali can convince some of Asia's Blatter-supporting delegates to vote for him, the outcome could be a lot closer than that projection.

The prince arrived in Australia on Wednesday ready to persuade delegates who are converging on Melbourne where the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is holding an extraordinary congress on Friday before the start of the Asian Cup, the confederation's major soccer championship.

However, Asian soccer politics are almost as much of a tactical battle as the game on the pitch and the geographically huge confederation, which sweeps the globe from the Middle East in the west to Japan in the east and Australia in the south, is notoriously volatile.

Alliances can be made and broken depending on who can gain what and the confederation is currently split between those who support Blatter for ruling out a re-vote regarding the Qatar 2022 World Cup and those who want change.

It is not even a clear-cut split between western and eastern Asian nations because some Gulf countries do not support Ali while some in the west of the region do.

Asia will have 46 votes at the FIFA election with AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain a staunch Blatter ally who will be urging delegates to support the Swiss.

Prince Ali lost a power battle with Sheikh Salman last year which saw the Bahraini forcing through policy to ensure he, as the head of the AFC, took the FIFA seat on the all-powerful executive committee, rather than Prince Ali, the independent Asian vice-president since 2011.

The Bahraini came to power in 2013 with a conclusive victory after being backed by Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah -- the king-maker Ali will need if he is to topple Blatter.

Sheikh Ahmad is the head of the Olympic Council of Asia and the Association of National Olympic Committees and his support has swayed many a sporting election campaign, with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach among those who have won votes after the Kuwaiti's backing.

When Blatter spoke at the AFC's awards dinner in Manila in December he made a point of praising Sheikh Ahmad in his pre-dinner speech rather than Salman, who had opened proceedings by reiterating the AFC's full support for Blatter to stand for a fifth term.

But Asian members, and in particular Ali, know Sheikh Ahmad can change that and back the Jordanian as he has done before.

However, Ali needs to pick up votes all over the world and not just in Asia if he wants to become FIFA president.

The majority of FIFA's 209 members have generally stayed loyal to Blatter because of the financial support guaranteed from the world governing body as long as Blatter is in control.

The so called "Goal Project" guarantees every member $250,000 a year, and more in World Cup years, and while that money is relatively inconsequential in Europe, it has a major impact in many of the smaller, poorer nations.

Prince Ali must convince delegates those payments will not stop if he becomes president and, at the same time, persuade them too that while many of them have been loyal to Blatter since he came to power in 1998, the time has come for change.

One reason the prince has a chance of overall victory is that CONCACAF, the confederation of North American and Caribbean countries, is no longer solidly behind Blatter as it was in the past with Sunil Gulati, the head of the United States association, a strong Prince Ali supporter.

The majority of European delegates will support Prince Ali as will parts of Africa.

If he can begin to convince the vast majority of Asia's delegates to vote for him as their own man, then he really will have a chance of a stunning victory in Zurich on May 29.


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