(WFI) It remains to be seen how the AFC Congress affects the FIFA presidential election on May 29. But one thing is for sure, three of the four candidates will be relieved it is over if perhaps not so satisfied with how it went.
For Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, seen as the main challenger to incumbent Sepp Blatter for the biggest job in world football, the congress, held in his own region of West Asia, was an exercise in frustration as his rivals, both global and continental, seemed to flourish.
While Blatter addressed the assembled delegates, Al Hussein as well as other hopefuls Luis Figo and Michael van Praag, unlike at the UEFA Congress in March, were denied the opportunity to do so in the last congress before the big event.
“I made a request to speak to the congress. I was allowed to speak at UEFA but not here. I wouldn’t have done it had the other two candidates not been allowed to speak,” Prince Ali told INSIDER.
“The AFC Congress is important but I am happy that all the congresses are over and we can move forward to the bigger election, the FIFA election.”
“The campaign is going well and we are all working hard.”
Figo was obviously not enjoying the congress that dragged on well into the afternoon and seemed very much on the outside looking in. When it was all over, he spoke to journalists.
“It’s not an easy process but then I know that at the beginning. I wanted to speak even if just for a short time. I have been at the congress for five or six hours but OK. I can do nothing but I would like the chance. Democracy is a beautiful word.”
When asked if he would run again in the future if this campaign does not work out, the former Real Madrid and Barcelona star replied, “One of the most common things I hear in this campaign is that I am still young. I just laugh at that – looks like you have to be 60 or 70 to be FIFA president.”
That gives plenty of time for Prince Ali too and if events in Bahrain are anything to go by, the 39-year-old may need it.
He kept a low profile in the hometown of his rival Sheikh Salman, elected unopposed
to a new four-year term as AFC president and the new occupant of what had been Prince Ali’s seat on the FIFA Executive Committee. The reformist Jordanian also did not attend an AFC gala dinner held the evening before the elections, that was also addressed by Blatter.
Blatter talked at more length at the congress itself and paid tribute to his challenger, even if he did refer to him as a colleague from the IOC. The head of the Jordan FA also seemed to be the only member of the AFC’s Executive Committee that did not applaud Blatter’s praise of Sheikh Salman.
The election of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait to the FIFA Executive Committee, an ally of Salman and Blatter, was another blow and a sign that his rivals have tightened their grip on the confederation.
Prince Ali Future Under Scrutiny
Few at the AFC expect Prince Ali to defeat Blatter at the Zurich ballot and there was some behind the scenes discussion as to whether he will be able to return to Asian politics after it is all over.
“As he lost the FIFA vice-presidency (to Sheikh Salman), there were only two options open for Prince Ali,” a senior West Asian official told INSIDER.
“As a prince and a proud man, it was not an option for him just to leave. He had to either challenge for the FIFA presidency or the AFC presidency. I think his chances of winning both were about the same. In the AFC, he would get maybe ten votes. He would get more votes in FIFA but the percentage would be about the same.
“It is difficult to see that he has a future in Asia,” the official said.
“In Arabic culture, if you lose something like this, then you step back and disappear. Look at (the head of the UAE FA) Yousef Al Serkal. After losing the AFC presidential election two years ago, he has stepped back almost completely from the AFC, even though he was still a vice-president of the confederation.”
Others disagree. Another official said that the prince was too important a figure not to contribute to the game in Asia and, given the almost complete lack of debate and transparency that surrounded this congress, that Asian football needed Prince Ali more than ever.
“Of course he can come back to the AFC. He is a reformer and he has a lot to offer. The question is whether he wants to and whether he wants to come back and work with the people here. If he can, then there is a future.”
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