New vice president wants end to FIFA ‘politics’

FIFA must abandon its culture of political intrigue after a
series of corruption scandals, according to the newest vice
president of world football’s governing body.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Prince Ali bin
al-Hussein of Jordan said the final four years of Sepp Blatter’s
presidency are ”absolutely critical” for FIFA to change and win
back disillusioned fans’ faith.

”Just get rid of this politics. Leave the politics aside – and
then judge (FIFA),” Prince Ali said.

Blatter was re-elected unopposed Wednesday, then promised
radical reforms to clean up his discredited organization.

”I think all of us now have to focus – as am I, as is someone
like Michel Platini and others – on the game itself,” Prince Ali
said.

Prince Ali pledged to ”play my part” in a potentially new era
for FIFA after formally joining its executive committee. The 24-man
inner circle next meets in October in Zurich.

The 35-year-old prince also promised Qatar, a West Asian
Football Federation ally, he would be ”at their disposal”
preparing to host the 2022 World Cup.

”I think that if Qatar does it right, and I will be there to
help them, then it should be something really outstanding,” said
Prince Ali, who founded the regional body on becoming head of
Jordan’s football assocation 12 years ago.

Qatar has been a whipping boy for football’s problems since
waves of corruption probes started washing up at FIFA headquarters
last October.

Since then, 14 serving and former members of FIFA’s executive
committee – including Blatter and four vice presidents – have been
linked to wrongdoing in bidding and bribery scandals. Allegations
were leveled by Britain’s media and Parliament, and Prince Ali’s
new FIFA colleague Chuck Blazer of the United States.

FIFA’s ethics committee banned six officials after investigating
vote-trading claims during 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding. It
could not prove suspected collusion between Qatar and 2018
candidate Spain-Portugal, which lost to Russia.

Last Sunday, the ethics panel suspended senior FIFA officials
Mohamed bin Hamman and Jack Warner pending a full inquiry to study
Blazer’s evidence that they arranged to bribe Caribbean voters
during bin Hammam’s presidential challenge.

The Qatari candidate withdrew on Sunday, hours before the ethics
hearing judged him and cleared Blatter of turning a blind eye to
alleged bribery.

Amid this whirlwind of accusation, conspiracy theories and
backstabbing, the quietly spoken Prince Ali moved toward the heart
of Blatter’s ”football family” on Wednesday.

”There’s been so much politics going on,” said the prince, who
is fifth in line to the Jordanian throne and seventh in FIFA’s
succession. ”I didn’t play a part in and I don’t want to play a
part in it in the future.”

By spending much of FIFA’s Congress week with Asian Football
Confederation members, Prince Ali avoided much of the daily gossip
at the downtown Zurich hotel where he, bin Hammam, Blazer and
others stayed.

”It’s a world I haven’t been in; it seems to be quite secretive
for some reason. I’m 35 years old, by far the youngest member of
the FIFA ExCo, and I have my own way of thinking,” said Prince
Ali, who graduated from Salisbury School, Connecticut.

While he cites Blatter as an adviser, he calls UEFA President
Platini a mentor.

”He has been my hero growing up,” Prince Ali said of the
former France great who is strongly favored to be the next FIFA
leader. ”He’s obviously a very honest, very open person.

”He is smart and surrounds himself with good people. You can
argue with him, you can have an honest, proper discussion. More
than anything else he cares, he loves the game.”

Prince Ali also has been guided by Junji Ogura, who led Japan’s
2002 World Cup organizers and ended nine years at FIFA on
Wednesday.

”It’s a great credit to him that he did it without bravado. I’d
like to work in the same way,” the prince said.

He is too diplomatic to speak about bin Hammam and Chung
Mong-joon. The big two of Asian football politics since the 1990s
are now absent from FIFA’s stage.

Prince Ali defeated South Korea’s Chung to earn Asia’s FIFA vice
presidency, in a 25-20 vote of AFC members in January despite their
president bin Hammam’s backing for the loser.

In one month’s time, Bin Hammam faces a lengthy ban should FIFA
find him guilty of bribery – which would give the new vice
president a bigger role representing Asia.

”There’s a process going on, we’re not part of it,” Prince Ali
said. ”Whatever happened, happened outside of our continent.”

The new Asian alliance appears to include the Jordanian prince
and the interim AFC president, Zhang Jilong of China.

Prince Ali pledged ”full support” for Zhang, whose call
Thursday for a revolution at the AFC implied rejection of bin
Hammam’s rule.

There was ”a lot of divisions in the past inside Asia. That’s
one of the reasons why we ran (for election) in the first place,”
Prince Ali said.

Despite differences with the Qatari official, the prince defends
the tiny, gas-rich emirate’s role hosting the World Cup, which FIFA
relies upon for commercial income to help fund its 208 members.

”It really does sometimes get under my skin,” Prince Ali said
of commentators’ sneering at Qatar. ”In our part of the world we
do need this celebration. We have been through so much it would be
a real wonderful thing to have a great World Cup.”

Platini also strongly supports Qatar, though he outlined his
ideal vision of a tournament with other Gulf nations staging
matches.

However, Blatter is now in charge and Prince Ali insists he
won’t plan a FIFA future beyond his own first term – not even to
protect his own privileged seat at the high table.

”I’m not going to be quiet. I’m not going to sit back and just
be comfortable with things,” the prince promised.