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 the world soccer 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.
''Just get rid of this politics. Leave the politics aside - and then judge (FIFA),'' Prince Ali said.
Blatter was re-elected unopposed Wednesday, promising 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.
''I'm not going to be quiet. I'm not going to sit back and just be comfortable with things,'' he said.
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 soccer association 12 years ago.
Qatar has become the latest focal point among soccer corruption allegations that began in 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 in 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.
Next month, 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 prince defends the tiny, gas-rich emirate's role in 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' suspicion of 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.''