(Reuters) - With the expected backing of European body UEFA, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein’s hopes of becoming the first Asian president of FIFA will rest on his ability to sway support at home in the Asian Football Confederation.
UEFA and AFC members will account for 100 votes — almost half of the total — at the May elections in Zurich, where the 39-year-old Jordanian royal will stand against Jermone Champagne and, barring a shock U-turn, incumbent Sepp Blatter.
Tuesday’s announcement of Ali’s decision to stand followed UEFA President Michel Platini revealing last month that he did not want to back either Blatter or Champagne and hoped another candidate would emerge.
And stepped forward the Frenchman’s close confidant Prince Ali.
The Jordanian royal, who said he had been encouraged to stand by his FIFA colleagues, will be able to bank on the support of the 54 members associations of a united UEFA, who have been critical of Blatter.
But a successful election will need votes from elsewhere, and Blatter has already been assured of the support of Africa’s 54 members, Confederation of African Football general secretary Hicham el Amrani said in September.
Asia is the key battle ground.
Despite being the founder and head of the West Asian Football Federation, and the AFC’s FIFA Vice President, Ali’s stock in his home continent has dropped since taking on the role at the world governing body in 2011.
Ali lost a political power struggle to AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa last year, with the Bahraini forcing through policy to ensure the head of the organization took the FIFA seat on the all-powerful executive committee.
The Bahraini came to power in 2013 with a conclusive election victory after being backed by Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah — the man Ali needs to topple Blatter.
Sheikh Ahmad is the head of the Olympic Council of Asia and the Association of National Olympic Committees and his support has swayed many a sporting election campaign, with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach among those who have won votes after the Kuwaiti’s backing.
When Blatter spoke at the AFC’s awards dinner in Manila in December he made a point of reaching out to thank and praise Sheikh Ahmad in his pre-dinner speech rather than Bahraini Shaikh Salman, who had opened proceedings by reiterating the AFC’s full support for Blatter to stand for a fifth term.
Asian members, and in particular Ali, know Sheikh Ahmad can change that and back the Jordanian as he has done before.
The Kuwaiti was left grinning from ear to ear following the 2011 AFC Congress, where Ali surprisingly toppled powerful South Korean Chung Mong-joon for the FIFA Vice-Presidency seat but their relationship is unclear now following Shaikh Salman’s election in 2013.
Despite the political powerplays at the top, Ali has won plaudits for his four years of vice-presidential work, where he has increased the number of countries competing in the AFC Champions League, promoted women’s soccer in Asia and removed the ban on head scarfs in the game.
The Asian Football Development Project, a non-profit youth commission he founded in 2012 to develop soccer across the poorest areas of the continent will also have curried favor among some Asian members — and he hopes in all powerful Kuwait.
(Fixes erroneous word in para 3)
Reporting by Patrick Johnston; editing by Sudipto Ganguly