It has been a long time coming but Sepp Blatter is finally about to be challenged as FIFA president in Zurich on Friday.
The name of Asia’s own Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein will appear on the ballot paper next to that of the Swiss supremo, who is looking to extend his 17-year tenure.
The campaign has been tough but one positive for the forward-thinking Jordanian is that the field has, in the last few days, been reduced from four to two.
There is no danger of the anti-Blatter vote being split.
Luis Figo has taken his world famous feet out of the race and Dutch FA boss Michael Van Praag has also thrown in the towel and his support behind the remaining challenger.
@MichaelvanPraag has made most coherent case for FIFA reform of presidential candidates. That his withdrawal inevitable says a great deal
— Paul Kelso (@pkelso) May 21, 2015
The question is, of course, whether the challenger can win. The arrests of six football officials in Zurich on Wednesday morning were dramatic but, at this stage, are unlikely to prevent the election going ahead.
Prince Ali said it was a “sad day for football”. It certainly is but it could mean more support for the new man looking to sweep the dark corners of FIFA clean and it certainly reinforces the impression, widely held around the world if not always in the mind of football officials, that under Blatter, FIFA has become increasingly corrupt.
But as always, when it comes to the world governing body, it is difficult to know for sure.
If there is some wavering over Blatter’s reign, Prince Ali’s recent decision to promise each federation a minimum of $1 million a year and that the World Cup will be expanded under his watch from 32 to 36 teams could help, though again, maybe not.
His manifesto explained: “A commitment to extend the number of countries participating in the World Cup from 32 to 36 teams as soon as possible, with a view to further, development-led expansion to be considered thereafter.
“I am committed to exploring all options to enable this expansion urgently, ideally in time for the 2018 World Cup.”
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 21, 2015
Before these developments, the prince had much of UEFA behind him but still, the support of his own confederation is less certain.
When a high-ranking member of a confederation is going for the world’s top job in a month’s time then its continental congress should be giving its man a massive surge of support, waving him off to Zurich with songs and praise ringing in his ears.
That was far from the case on April 30. Bahrain was the venue and the home of his continental rival Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, the president of the AFC who, last June, took Prince Ali’s seat on the powerful FIFA Executive Committee (Exco).
Some believe it was this act that left the Jordanian with nothing to lose and so he decided to go for broke and challenge the FIFA boss.
In Salman’s backyard last month, the Jordanian was a peripheral figure and not even allowed to address the delegates.
In past Congresses, he had been a visible presence in the days leading up to the event but no longer.
With the election of the influential Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah to the FIFA Exco, it was a congress that belonged to Ali’s enemies and both Ahmad and Salman are keen supporters of Blatter.
This week, the prince will be happy to be in the friendlier surroundings of Europe.
The word on the Asian street, or lobbies, is that the royal can get maybe around a quarter of the confederation’s members to vote for him.
It won’t be enough to push him over the line but if he can do well elsewhere then he can hurt Blatter.
The first target is 69 votes which would prevent the president from winning with a two-thirds majority; anything more than that would be a bonus and will show the incumbent that the organisation is not as united behind him as he may like to think.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) May 27, 2015
If Prince Ali can wound the incumbent then the challenge could turn out to be a hugely meaningful one in terms of the history of football politics and governance.
If or when he loses, he then has to decide whether or not he will return to Asian football.
Opinion is split as to whether he will but it is hoped that this reformist figure does just that. If nothing else, recent events have shown that, at the very least, football needs reform.
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