Victory or bust for Jordan’s charming Prince Ali

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein is the only candidate left standing to challenge Sepp Blatter in Friday’s FIFA Presidential election.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (REUTERS) – A quiet, steely, determination runs through Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the Jordanian royal who has brought a breath of fresh air to FIFA politics since he was elected to its executive committee four years ago.

Prince Ali, 39, has gained widespread support as something of a reforming influence on the executive but unless he wins the presidential election on May 29 in Zurich, that influence will end.

Not everyone supports the idea of reform and modernisation at world soccer’s top table and he has become the victim of political machinations in his own Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

That means the seat he occupies as vice-president will now be taken by AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Ali, who exudes a polite charm and never appears flustered at least in public, does not have a problem with that principle.

But he was not prepared to stand as an ordinary Asian member seeking a seat back on the FIFA executive committee through a vote by AFC delegates after the AFC last year endorsed Sepp Blatter to continue as president.

Ali and Blatter, once close, became politically estranged because of moves behind the scenes and also because Ali was not prepared to sit back and be a good boy as the youngest member on the executive and do as he was told.

He quickly saw where reforms should be made and is now challenging for the presidency on a platform to change FIFA and unseat Blatter, who originally welcomed him as an amenable ally.

His manifesto “A FIFA Worthy of the World’s Game” emphasises the need to have a more open and transparent organisation.

“I’ve been in football for a number of years and on the executive committee of FIFA for the last four years,” Prince Ali told Reuters in February. “And after talking to colleagues from across the football world and I’m talking about fans, players as well as member associations; I think that we all agree that it is time now for a change to have a FIFA, a transparent FIFA to work on the sport itself, on development and I cannot see myself being a member of the executive for another four years under the present circumstances and I’m willing to take the challenge.”

Although his fellow challengers Luis Figo of Portugal, and Michael van Praag of the Netherlands pulled out of their campaigns, Prince Ali has never suggested he would do the same.

He was quick to correct a rumour that suggested he was thinking of doing that last month, and of all the candidates he appears to have the strongest global support. Whether that will be enough to see him win the ballot, is of course, another matter.

As a member of the Jordanian royal family, and the third son of the late King Hussein, Prince Ali has a proud family heritage and has enjoyed certain privileges.

But he has used those blessings to his advantage and not abused them.

Educated in the United States and at Sandhurst military academy in England, he was a star at wrestling and became the president of his country’s football association at the age of 25, a position he still holds.

By 35 he was Asia’s vice-president on FIFA and among other things he founded the West Asian Football Federation giving a greater voice to the countries in his region.

He also founded the Asian Football Development Programme (AFDP) which has ploughed vast resources into the grass roots of the game across the vast, sprawling populous continent.

One of his most notable victories was successfully fighting to lift the ban which forbade women and girls playing organised football wearing the hijab or head-scarf.

He also helped Jordan win the right to stage next year’s Under-17 women’s World Cup in the heart of the Arab world.

One of his failures was trying to get FIFA to make public the findings of the Michael Garcia report into alleged corruption surrounding the awarding by world soccer’s governing body of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

The report, though, has been buried in FIFA’s vaults, and is now never likely to see the light of day.

Ali speaks quietly, has a modest air about him, commands respect and, in his own charming way, generally speaks a great deal of sense.

Those qualities might not be enough to enable him to unseat Blatter but it would be to FIFA’s detriment if they were lost to the organisation for good.

Factbox of Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, one of the three men challenging Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency at this month’s election.

* Born in Amman on Dec. 23, 1975, he is the third son of the late King Hussein of Jordan. His mother Queen Alia died in a helicopter crash in February 1977 when he was 14 months old.

* His Algerian-born wife is a former television journalist and they have two children.

* Price Ali was educated in Jordan, the United States and Britain and holds the rank of Major General in the Jordanian Armed Forces.

* He became president of the Jordan Football Association in 1999 and a year later, he founded the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF).

* He successfully campaigned to lift the ban on female Islamic players wearing headscarves in competitions.

* In 2011, he was elected FIFA vice president for Asia, becoming the youngest member of the executive board at the age of 35. He was also elected vice president of the Asian Football Confederation.

* His sister, Princess Haya, served two terms as president of the international equestrian federation and their half-brother, Prince Faisal, is a member of the International Olympic Committee.

* Ali will only remain on the FIFA executive committee if he wins the presidential election. His confederation, the AFC have changed their statutes with the vice-presidency seat Ali occupied now allocated to the president of the Asian confederation. Ali did not contest the seats open to ordinary members.

* His FIFA election manifesto: Prince Ali states in his manifesto “A FIFA Worthy of the World’s Game” he wants to “turn the pyramid upside down” giving more power to “the national associations, players, coaches, officials, fans and sponsors.”

He sets out a detailed programme to “restore FIFA’s credibilty” with a review of how the World Cup places are allocated, establishing a “formal continental rotation system.”

* William Hill odds for victory: 20-1