By Christian Radnedge
LONDON (Reuters) – Former FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan is not planning a return to the frontline of football politics, even with presidential elections for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA taking place next year.
Prince Ali ran for the top job at world soccer’s governing body in 2015, losing to Sepp Blatter, and tried again after the Swiss resigned in 2016 but was beaten by Gianni Infantino, who will stand for re-election next June.
Blatter is serving a six-year FIFA ban from “all football activities” for unethical conduct after the soccer body was rocked by a global corruption scandal in 2015. The 82-year-old Swiss has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The AFC holds its presidential poll on April 6 with Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa seeking a further term in office.
Prince Ali was in London on Tuesday to launch his new social enterprise, the Association Football Development Programme (AFDP) Global, at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
Far from being a platform to raise his profile, the 42-year-old said he was content to use his FIFA experience from 2011 to 2016 to help deprived communities around the world through football, away from the bureaucracy of the sport.
“I’m just focused on this project and obviously I got re-elected as RFA (Jordanian FA) president and I want to focus on that, on West Asia,” Prince Ali told reporters when asked if he would run for AFC president.
“To be honest during the time when I was doing the FIFA campaign, and hopefully we pushed the barriers quite a bit with that, I wasn’t able to focus as much on West Asia and on my own FA which is incredibly important to me…
“But also with AFDP Global we can do so much more without having to worry about anything… and using and utilising the most popular sport in the world for good, it’s the happiest thing that I could do.”
It was on behalf of the AFC that Prince Ali first became a FIFA vice president in 2011. His work on the former FIFA executive committee led him to set up the original AFDP concentrating on grassroots initiatives in Asia.
His decision not to contest the AFC election next year means he will stay away from what could be an intense battle between Bahraini Sheikh Salman and Adel Ezzat of Saudi Arabia, the new president of the South West Asian Football Federation.
Sheikh Salman was first elected AFC president in 2013 to finish the term of disgraced Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life from soccer by FIFA for alleged corruption. Sheikh Salman was then re-elected in 2015 unopposed.
Infantino might have a similar route to a first full term as FIFA chief with the Swiss-Italian announcing in Moscow last June that he would seek re-election next year. No other candidates have yet come forward for the June 2019 vote in Paris.
Since being elected in 2016 following the FIFA corruption scandal, Infantino has fulfilled his main promises of expanding the World Cup to 48 teams from 32, starting in 2026, and also increasing development funds for FIFA’s 219 member associations.
But Prince Ali warned that there was still a lot of work to be done to transform the global game.
“For myself, when I was running for two to three years it was filling Sepp Blatter’s remaining term and my opinion is that you have to work as hard as possible to make the changes during that time,” he said.
“Had I won, I wasn’t even looking for re-election. I had my kids, my family in Jordan, it would have been very difficult…
“Now other people have different aspects and different ideas and if Gianni is more focused now on getting re-elected, that’s fine I’m not going to criticise that.
“But whoever comes as president will have a four-year mandate and I think they had better crack on…”
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Ken Ferris)