Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein’s long-shot bid to unseat Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in the international soccer governing body’s upcoming election received a major boost Wednesday with the arrests of several top officials on corruption charges. Blatter was not among the indicted, but a growing portion of the international soccer community see him as part of the problem – and Prince Ali as a potential savior.
Despite years of corruption allegations, it was considered likely that Blatter would win a fifth term as FIFA president at this Friday’s FIFA Congress, in which the body’s top officials will vote on the office. But after the arrests, Prince Ali, 39, had reportedly secured more than 60 of FIFA’s 209 member votes – enough to push the election to a second round of voting.
Aside from his role as president of the Jordan Football Association, Prince Ali has been a FIFA vice president since 2011 and overseer of the organization’s operations in Asia. He has established himself as an agent of reform within an organization racked by bureaucracy and traditionalism. Prince Ali led a successful campaign in 2012 to end FIFA’s ban on the hijab in women’s soccer and was among the FIFA officials who called for independent investigator Michael J. Garcia’s report on potential corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes to be made public, the Guardian reported.
This week, Prince Ali’s camp contacted police about an unknown individual's April attempt to secure a bribe in exchange for 47 votes in Friday’s election, just one day before Swiss authorities and the FBI carried out their raids.
“We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA,” Prince Ali said in a statement Wednesday, according to Sky Sports. “A crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today. FIFA needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations.”
Acting at the U.S. Justice Department’s behest, Swiss authorities arrested seven of FIFA’s most senior officials Wednesday on charges of corruption, bribery and racketeering. In all, 14 international soccer and sports media officials were indicted on allegations they accepted more than $150 million in bribes related to preferential voting, television and event-hosting rights, the New York Times reported.
Blatter, who has been FIFA’s president since 1998, has dodged scandal after scandal to maintain his position at the top of the international soccer world. He was not directly implicated or charged in connection to Wednesday’s raids. But the cloud of suspicion that now hovers over him arrived at the worst possible time.
Still, Prince Ali’s path to becoming FIFA's next president is far from assured. Blatter, 79, has a cadre of supporters and the advantage of decades-old relationships within the soccer community. Both the Asian Football Confederation and the Confederation of African Football have reiterated their support for Blatter since Wednesday, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, the Union of European Football Associations, the agency that governs European soccer, has publicly backed Prince Ali to unseat Blatter. A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron also said his office was “squarely behind” Prince Ali.
“Prince Ali was pretty confident before the events of yesterday. I suspect he’s even more confident now,” Greg Dyke, chairman of England’s Football Association, told Sky Sports.
The Football Federation Australia and former FIFA presidential candidates Michael Van Praag and Luis Figo have also announced support for the Jordanian prince. “FFA believes that profound change within FIFA is needed as soon as possible to address issues of governance and transparency,” FFA Chairman Frank Lowy said in a statement Thursday, as cited by Australia’s ABC News. “This belief will be reflected when Australia casts its vote in the presidential election, should it proceed on Friday in Zurich.”