Campaign trail starts for Prince Ali in Melbourne

Backed by UEFA President Michel Platini and the near majority of the European confederation, the 39-year-old prince must convince a bulk of voters in the AFC

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FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein heads to Melbourne for Friday’s AFC Extraordinary Congress, aiming to convince Asian members he is the man to clean up world soccer’s governing body.

The Jordanian royal said on Tuesday he would challenge for soccer’s top job at the May elections in Zurich against Frenchman Jerome Champagne and incumbent Sepp Blatter after becoming fed up with the sport being dragged through the mud by poor governance.

Backed by UEFA President Michel Platini and the near majority of the European confederation, the 39-year-old prince must convince a bulk of voters in the AFC he is the man for the job if he is to become only the ninth leader of FIFA and the first from Asia.

However, getting AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa onside is most certainly a bridge too far.

The Bahraini and Jordanian endured an ugly public spat last year after Shaikh Salman pushed through legislation to ensure the AFC President automatically took the FIFA vice president position currently held by Ali.

The Jordanian suggested the Bahraini should spend less time on playing politics and more on developing the sport in a final dig as he inevitably lost out in the power struggle.

Next on Shaikh Salman’s radar is finalizing the removal of Iran from the Ali-founded West Asian Football Federation, which the Jordanian also presides over.

Avid fan

Friday’s meeting in Melbourne, one of Asia’s furthest outposts, will see members ratify Iran’s move to the Central Asian Federation, while the composition of the AFC executive committee could also see some changes.

Some unsourced reports suggest Australian lawyer and AFC Vice President Moya Dodd, an Ali ally, could be shunted aside in the shakeup.

Following the meetings, Ali and many of the AFC’s top brass will head to the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium for the opening match of the Asian Cup between Australia and Kuwait.

The avid fan will then follow his home nation in Group D matches against holders Japan, former winners Iraq and tournament newcomers Palestine as well as watch other matches in a perfect environment to lobby votes.

Although Shaikh Salman has already declared the AFC’s full support for the 78-year-old Blatter to stand for a fifth term, Ali remains a popular figure in some corners of the 47-member association.

His non-profit Asian Football Development Project has helped with developments in many of the continent’s poorest countries, while he has been behind the increased promotion of women’s soccer in the region.

He also won plaudits for his fight to remove the ban on headscarves being worn in women’s matches after pressing Blatter to take the issue to soccer’s law makers, the International Football Association Board.

If he can successfully canvass a large chunk of the Asian votes over the next three weeks in Australia using his body of work in four years at FIFA’s top table, he may just have a chance of toppling Blatter.

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