Prince Ali and the bid to clean up Fifa

Prince Ali and the bid to clean up Fifa
Analysis: The Jordanian vice-president of football's world governing body is riding a wave of support as international legal pressure mounts on Fifa's top leaders.
4 min read
29 May, 2015
Prince Ali of Jordan has been winning support for his candidacy [AFP]

The demands for new leadership at Fifa, the world's governing body for football, have spread worldwide in recent days, after the latest corruption scandal to mar Sepp Blatter's fractious reign, in which seven Fifa officials were arrested in Switzerland.

Jordanian Prince Ali bin al Hussein, who officially threw his hat into the ring for Blatter's job in January, has been garnering international support for his bid to clean up the beautiful game's tarnished reputation.

Hussein has strong support for a new era of reforms from several high-profile figures - including British Prime Minister David Cameron, most of UEFA - with former French football star Michel Platini at the helm - and the even more controversial Argentinean football legend Diego Maradona, who quipped "with Ali, the good will remain and the bad I will personally kick you-know-where".

As the only remaining candidate to face off against Blatter, the 39-year-old has been campaigning for greater transparency and a break from allegations over corrupt and nepotistic practices that have consistently dogged Blatter and his cronies.

In his election manifesto outlining his vision for the world game, posted a few days before the most recent scandal, he asserts that "Fifa must take a lead in combating match-fixing and match-manipulation, criminal activities which appear to be reaching record levels and which undermine the integrity of the game".

Hussein is the younger half-brother of King Abdullah, and is married to Rym Brahimi - a former CNN correspondent and daughter of the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who served as a UN Special Envoy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The half-Palestinian royal claims direct descent from the Prophet Muhammed, and attended the Sandhurst Military Academy in the United Kingdom, was educated at Princeton, is a brigadier in his country's armed forces and even earned his stripes as a paratrooper pathfinder jumping out of military helicopters.

He is the youngest member on the Fifa executive committee, and has represented the Asian Football Confederation since 2011, while 79-year-old Blatter is seeking a fifth term in office.

Both candidates are hoping to secure a majority of votes from the 209 national football associations eligible to vote.

Since heading up the Jordanian Football Association in 1999, he has embarked on an ambitious program to promote the importance of grassroots football clubs and how they are integral to the overall booming business of global football.

He has championed greater visibility of women's football, spearheading the successful 2012 campaign to lift a ban on women players from wearing the hijab. He is lobbying for Jordan to host the Ubder-17 Women's World Cup next year.

Last year, Hussein was cordial when Blatter visited Amman.

"I'd like to welcome President Blatter to his second home," he said.

But he has also been critical of Blatter's leadership, accusing the Swiss administrator most recently of stripping the dignity from the world game.

Hussein has also been pushing for the full Garcia report to be published, after the damning 430-page report was heavily redacted, and only a brief summary published.

Named after former US attorney Michael Garcia, who led an in-depth investigation into Fifa's controversial bidding process for hosting the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar respectively, the report found that irregularities did take place.

Fifa Ethics Chief Hans-Joachim Eckert blocked the full report from being published, releasing his own summary instead.

Sepp Blatter has shrugged off bribery and kickback allegations, saying that Russia and Qatar will go ahead with hosting. Meanwhile, Hussein has steadily seen his political stock rise internationally.

"The world's game deserves a world-class governing body - a model of ethics, transparency and good governance," he said.

If voted in, one of the first issues Hussein would have to face is the Palestinian Football Association's motion to expel Israel from all international football competition for Israel's restricting of Palestinian players' movements in the occupied territories, and the institutionalised racism they face.

The Palestinians have a sympathetic advocate in Hussein.

"The complexity of Palestine's political reality today should not hinder the evolution or development of Palestinian football," he has said. "Rather, members of Fifa… should lend their support to Palestine in this regard as sport is a basic human right."

With the arrest of Fifa officials just days before the vote, Hussein's timing is opportune - and the sole maverick contender may yet be crowned football's prince after all.