Into the enemy's lair: Sepp Blatter ready to go toe-to-toe with UEFA

Story highlights

  • Sepp Blatter could face his presidential rivals in Vienna next month
  • All four men set to be invited to speak at the UEFA congress
  • Luis Figo, Michael van Praag and Prince Ali keen on open debate
  • UEFA considers giving each candidate allotted time to speak at its congress

(CNN)It's official -- world football's controversial leader Sepp Blatter is set to enter the enemy's lair just weeks after accusing UEFA of plotting to depose him.

The FIFA president is prepared to the risk of public humiliation in Vienna next month as he faces the three men who plan to usurp him with European governing body UEFA considering giving each candidate the chance to make their case at its congress on March 24.
FIFA confirmed to CNN that Blatter plans to be in Austria for the congress as he steps up his campaigning to retain the presidency.
    With 209 federation votes at stake, the candidates will have the opportunity to influence over a quarter of them as they address UEFA's 54 member nations at an event that would be broadcast online.
    Seeking a fifth consecutive term in office at the age of 79, Blatter is facing challenges from Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, Dutchman Michael van Praag and former Real Madrid and Barcelona star Luis Figo.
    All three of Blatter's opponents have declared their willingness to take part in a live debate with the Swiss, who has previously rejected such offers by claiming football should not "imitate politics."
    That's a reference to the political debates, for example in the United States and Britain, where politicians slug it out in front of the cameras ahead of elections.
    While Prince Ali has called for an open debate and Van Praag even suggested a Google hangout, UEFA is examining the possibility of giving each candidate an allotted amount of time to outline their plans to repair FIFA's battered image.
    The world governing body's reputation has been dragged through the mud by the furor over alleged corruption surrounding the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
    That criticism reached a fever pitch when the man brought in by FIFA to investigate, U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia, resigned in protest last year, unhappy that his published summary did not accurately reflect his findings.
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    While an actual debate is unlikely at this stage, the opportunity for Blatter's opponents to speak to congress and potentially highlight the incumbent's failings right in front of him could potentially prove embarrassing to the Swiss.
    Speaking at his campaign launch in London on Tuesday, Prince Ali threw down the gauntlet to Blatter, suggesting an open debate between candidates should take place.
    "If we are talking about transparency, I would like to see, at least before the elections a public debate, including the incumbent," Prince Ali said.
    "If we talk about reform, proper reform, I'm not confident I've seen it. He's had the chance to do it," added Prince Ali referring to Blatter.
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    "We've also had promises from him that he would not run again. He has been the president and, definitely, the president needs to be held responsible for what happens."
    Both Prince Ali and Jerome Champagne, who failed to gain the required number of backers to qualify for the election, have been scathing over FIFA's image in recent days.
    In an open letter, Champagne said that he was unable to collect the five nominations needed as a number of associations feared they would be punished for supporting him.
    "I warmly thank the three federations that have endorsed me and the many presidents who explained, with candor and friendship, that they could not do it despite their interest in my program," he wrote.
    "The reasons were numerous. Because they feared reprisals from their confederations having issued 'recommendations.'
    "Because their federations were candidates to host continental competitions. Because they relied too heavily on the financial support. Because they were committed to defend a united continental front."
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    Prince Ali has gone as fas as to suggest that FIFA is run by a "culture of intimidation" with some national associations fearing retribution if they back any other candidate other than Blatter, though the Jordanian didn't provide specific examples.
    FIFA declined to comment when contacted by CNN over Prince Ali's "intimidation" reference.
    Allegations of corruption have blighted Blatter's 17-year reign and Michel Platini, president of UEFA, has been outspoken of his desire to see the Swiss removed from the top of world football.
    Blatter is aware of Platini's stance and speaking to CNN last month, he insisted UEFA was waging a campaign to depose him.
    They want to get rid of me," he told CNN.
    "All this opposition is coming now it's unfortunate to say it, it's coming from Nyon, from UEFA. They don't have the courage to come in.
    "So let me go (on) -- be respectful! Because in football you learn to win but you also learn to lose. So I'm going now. If I win the better, if I lose OK!"