GENEVA (Reuters) - Some national teams have been given unfavorable fixtures for failing to toe the political line inside soccer’s world governing body, the Jordanian candidate to become its next president said on Thursday.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, one of five men competing to take over as head of FIFA, described a climate of fear and reprisals inside the scandal-plagued organization, whose outgoing boss, Sepp Blatter, was suspended in October and banned from football for eight years in December.
“Let me tell you what happens when you don’t go with the recognized powers in FIFA,” Prince Ali, who is head of Jordan’s football association, told a news conference.
”Development projects mysteriously stall; tournament hosting bids are suddenly compromised or withdrawn; national teams start to mysteriously face less favorable fixtures or even referees.
“All of these are effective ways to punish member associations that fail to demonstrate political loyalty.”
FIFA is mired in the worst crisis in its 111-year history, with corruption investigations under way in Switzerland and the United States. Several dozen people, including senior soccer officials, have been indicted.
Allegations against FIFA have so far focused on financial malpractice and money laundering. Prince Ali’s comments raised the possibility that wrongdoing extended onto the pitch and involved the manipulation of fixtures.
A FIFA spokesman said the group did not comment on the positions of individual candidates while they were campaigning for office.
Prince Ali is regarded as an outsider in the Feb. 26 election to succeed Blatter, who has led FIFA since 1998. Swiss-Italian Gianni Infantino has won the backing of European soccer’s governing body UEFA and South America’s CONMEBOL, while Africa’s confederation has backed Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.
Speaking later to Reuters Television, Prince Ali did not enlarge on the allegation that national teams had been given unfavorable fixtures, but he said the practice had extended to FIFA competitions.
“I‘m referring to competitions and a lot of times it comes down to the (continental) confederations as well, and the way they approach games,” he said
“It’s a common feeling within the footballing world and it’s something that one has to really tackle and make sure there is no interference in terms of how things are planned.”
Asked if the practice included World Cup qualifiers, he said: “I think sometimes it happens across the board.”
World Cup qualifiers are usually organized by the confederations of the continents in which they take place.
“Confederations have a lot of pull in how they organize the tournaments, and FIFA has to keep a much more watchful eye because these are FIFA tournaments and therefore they have to guarantee that things are done much more effectively,” he said.
FIFA could not immediately be reached for comment.
Prince Ali has served four years on FIFA’s executive committee, but described himself as a rebel. He said he was surprised to learn when he joined the committee that meetings were held below ground at its Zurich headquarters.
“It is a bunker, three floors underground, and for me that is not the vision that one should have for that organization,” he said. “There is a problem where minutes are not published. And even when they are received they are not accurate, in my opinion.”
He said that if elected, he would review the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar if there was proof of wrongdoing.
The desert country was a surprise choice to host the event, normally held in summer, and provoked a furor that forced FIFA to switch it to November and December, in the middle of the European season. Qatar denies any wrongdoing in connection with its bid.
“If there is proof that there was criminal activity involved in a bid, then sure,” Prince Ali said, adding that he would also look at allegations of maltreatment of migrant construction workers in Qatar.
“I will, as president, be there to make sure that human rights and workers’ rights are abided by,” he said.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Larry King