Asia’s top sports leaders on Friday refused to back Prince Ali bin Al Hussein’s election challenge to FIFA president Sepp Blatter and insisted it was doomed to failure.
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa told AFP there would be no about-turn on the regional body’s previous commitment to back Blatter.
He said all 46 AFC member associations were behind the controversial 78-year-old’s re-election, despite Jordanian royal Prince Ali’s status as an AFC vice president.
“We made it clear where Asia is heading in the next FIFA election and the 46 countries have committed to Joseph Sepp Blatter to take a fifth term — so nothing has changed,” Shaikh Salman said after an AFC extraordinary congress in Melbourne, before the start of the Asian Cup.
“We never change our commitment.”
Shaikh Salman added that he had been stunned to hear of Prince Ali’s decision, announced this earlier week, to stand against Blatter in the May 29 FIFA election.
“I was surprised to see it in the press,” he said. “If there is a candidate from Asia, Asia has to push for it. It’s not the way around that somebody can nominate themselves without consulting the Asian confederation. At the end of the day, you will need the backing of the confederation.”
Prince Ali, 39, a FIFA vice president and head of the West Asian Football Federation, was one of several officials who called for the publication of ethics investigator Michael Garcia’s report into allegations of corruption surrounding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.
His appearance in Melbourne triggered a sudden media crush, although he declined to give any comment.
Blatter has become a deeply controversial figure following a series of scandals including over the bidding process for 2018 and 2022, won by Russia and Qatar respectively.
– Tarnished reputation –
Prince Ali, who has vowed to repair FIFA’s tarnished reputation, is a close ally of Blatter rival and UEFA president Michel Platini, meaning he can count on a significant number of the European body’s 54 votes.
Speaking to Swiss daily Le Matin, Blatter responded to the challenge by saying: “I can only rejoice in this candidacy. We’re a democracy, and this can only be good for the debate.”
He added: “Don’t they say that victory without peril is a triumph without glory?”
Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) boss Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah warned that Prince Ali risked upsetting the unity of member nations across the region.
He predicted Prince Ali would struggle to win “10 to 15 percent of the votes” and suggested he reconsider entering the race.
“I hope Prince Ali or any other candidate will think a thousand times before making his calculation,” the powerful Kuwaiti said in Melbourne.
“He has the right to continue, but we wish to show our solidarity in the football family — and solidarity is needed more than ever in this organisation during (a time of) the Garcia file and stories of corruption.”
Sheikh Ahmad added: “I hope he will recalculate to think what would be a realistic analysis (of the situation) and take the right resolution.”
However, Japan’s football chief took a more circumspect view.
“We have not made a decision on whether to support Prince Ali or support Blatter,” Japan Football Association president Kuniya Daini told AFP.
“Prince Ali has very clear ideas but of course it depends if the Asian members back him. Japan belongs to the East Asian Football Federation and we hope to decide with our partners what direction to follow after we meet with them next month. We haven’t decided anything unilaterally.”