FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein speaks about organization's culture of intimidation'
He's up against Luis Figo, Michael van Praag and current FIFA president Sep Blatter
The Jordanian prince could be the first Muslim to run FIFA in its 101-year history
It was meant as a joke, but Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein inadvertently cut to the chase with the perception hanging over world football as it wrestles with the decision as to re-elect FIFA president Sepp Blatter or opt for a new beginning.
“Do we have any football questions?” quipped the Jordanian, as he launched his bid to become head of an organization whose reputation has taken a bit battering in recent years.
Yes, there was last year’s World Cup, which garnered plenty of plaudits, but invariably when FIFA’s name crops up it’s to do with the rights and wrongs of its decision to award the next two competitions to Russia and Qatar.
So as a light dusting of snow slowly melted outside a swanky London hotel, Prince Ali turned up the heat on the current head of world football.
“I think the main point is to have a new culture” Ali told CNN in an interview after he addressed the media for the first time since announcing his intention to run.
“It’s about not having the game controlled by people’s personal opinions or the whims of the president. It needs to be inclusive for all.”
At the moment a spirit of inclusion is not altogether apparent in FIFA’s corridors of power, with ethics investigator Michael Garcia resigning in December to protest the handling of his own report into Qatar and Russia’s successful bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The string of controversies have put FIFA’s internal politics at the front and center of the presidential race.
Prince Ali spoke of a “culture of intimidation” within FIFA, with some national associations fearing retribution if they back any other candidate other than Blatter, though he didn’t provide specific examples.
FIFA declined to comment when contacted by CNN over Prince Ali’s “intimidation” reference.
A vice president of the Asian Football Confederation, Jordan was the only country from that continent to lend its backing to Ali, who relied on England, the United States, Belarus, Georgia and Malta to complete his bid.
His campaign is being masterminded by Vero Communications Ltd, a public relations company that also has a wider communications brief working with UEFA, the European confederation within FIFA.
“I’ve tried as much as I can to reform it from within… having seen what’s happened I’m not going to allow another four years of this,” Prince Ali said of FIFA’s internal workings.
As well as Blatter, Prince Ali is up against former Portugal captain – and 2001’s FIFA World Player of the Year – Luis Figo, who says he who was convinced to stand after FIFA’s handling of the Garcia report.
Also running is the head of Dutch soccer, Michael van Praag, 67, who has openly called for Blatter to stand down, taking it upon himself to restore what he sees as a lack of trustworthiness in the organization.
If elected, the 39-year-old Prince Ali could become the first Muslim to lead FIFA in its 101-year history.
He previously led calls for FIFA to lift its ban on the hijab that was preventing many Muslim women from following their football dreams.
“I’ve been a huge supporter of the women’s game – across the world,” he said. “It’s the biggest growth area in football right now. It needs to be taken much more seriously, and I’m willing and committed to doing so.”
Prince Ali was also keen to stress his commitment to ridding football of any form of prejudice.
“I think that there should be no discrimination in football in any way, shape or form,” he added.
Whilst the Jordanian prince is out and proud about his intentions, this may not be enough to challenge Blatter’s 16-year dynasty.
In the meantime Ali had better get used to talking politics, as it seems football is off the agenda.