FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein unveils his manifesto
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the president of the Jordanian FA and a FIFA vice president representing Asia, is one of the three men hoping to unseat Sepp Blatter in the world governing body's presidential elections on May 29. On Monday, he unveiled his manifesto.
As you might expect it focuses on reform and transparency but, equally, Prince Ali emphasizes how FIFA could do a better job in giving back to member nations and introduces the idea of global scholarship and exchange programs, to cross-pollinate ideas and know-how from around the globe. He also talked about the "culture of fear" -- fear of repercussions for backing the "wrong horse" -- that sometimes affects FIFA member nations.
Q: You talk about a virtuous cycle; FIFA spending more on national associations -- you cite getting everyone a national stadium and up-to-date training facilities -- to ultimately grow the pie and develop the game. Can you expand upon that?
A: What we're talking about is how [the cycle] contributes to the game. And the fact of the matter is that the greatest slice of income comes from the World Cup. But a lot of that income goes into [cash] reserves, which is understandable because the organization has to take care of itself. Having said that, the World Cup represents the whole world, so you have to reinvest it back into national associations ... FIFA is there to serve the national associations, so that money needs to be reinvested back into the system.
Q: FIFA has in excess of $1.5 billion in cash reserves. Why do they keep so much of it locked away?
A: That's one of the key points. We have to be responsible, but most of it should be reinvested. If our national associations are self-sustainable, then that serves the game. And that's one of the points I want to implement.
Q: FIFA has received a lot of negative press, particularly with claims of corruption. It has gone on for a long time, though it has intensified of late. Folks wonder why countries keep the same people in power. Is it simply that if I'm a small FA and looking after my national game I'm not so preoccupied with corruption and where the next World Cup is held because I'll probably never qualify? So instead I'm more worried about having the funds to run my national game?
A: I come from a small national association myself. So there are a lot of issues like that, but there are also a lot of good people in football. Unfortunately the situation is that the whole [of FIFA] is being dragged down. It's crucial that we fix that problem. And that problem comes from the top, from the leadership itself. And therefore we need a change. Having said that, sure, the national associations are very concerned about themselves and what support they can get [from FIFA].
[But] the point is -- and what I've been communicating with them -- is that they can get a heck of a lot more than they're getting now. And that can only be done if we reassess and reinvest our resources back into the game itself and into the needs and necessities that they need to be on the road to being self-sustainable. That includes the fact that many national associations don't have the basic needs.
I also want to invest in the human aspect of the sport and have a scholarship program to share knowledge and experiences. Of course, there are national associations that are fully cognizant that they'll never reach a World Cup. But maybe they'll have a referee who gets there. Or maybe they'll have players at top [club] teams. They themselves become ambassadors for the country. What we have to provide is the basic tools to achieve those goals.
Q: FIFA is committed to the fact that national associations have to be free from political influence. If they detect government interference, they'll suspend a country's membership. And yet there are 209 members and not every country is a paragon of democracy and good government. Do we view this too much through a Western lens? Is it inevitable that, in some nations, the head of an FA will have political ties?
A: There are two ways of looking at it. On the one hand you need to have the political autonomy of FIFA as an organization. But on the other, there are situations where political interference can be avoided [without suspending membership]. I did it myself in Asia with members who were [facing suspension]. And the way to do it is by tackling issues on the ground rather than via diktats from Zurich. The unfortunate thing is that if a country is suspended the only people suffering are the players and fans themselves. There has to be more engagement at all levels.
[But] another issue is that there is this perception that FIFA is very good at marketing the support it gives in terms of projects. But especially in smaller countries they make it look as if they're getting all the necessary support when in many cases they are not. So we have to convince governments of the need to support football as well. And that's why I'd like to see regional offices across the world as well. For example, the development committee meets twice a year. That's not enough in this age and time.
Q: What's the thinking behind your proposal of an exchange program?
A: You look at administrators, coaches, referees. There are so many good ones who are not working and would love the opportunity to go help out in other countries. And there are many who would love the chance to go and learn from those who are more advanced or even those who are just different. That's a big part of development and FIFA should be in a position to sponsor this.
Q: There's a sense though that many national associations back the current FIFA president just because the status quo suits them. How do you change that?
A: There's a little bit of fear at how national associations are run outside of Europe. I think it's very unfair. Most of the national associations I talk to do have what's best for football foremost on their minds. But, sure, it's a lot easier for an incumbent [to reach them] because people know who the incumbent is. It's always a challenge when you're coming in as somebody new. This is the first FIFA election [in a long time] that is being contested in this way.
That said, sure, there is maybe a little bit of a "culture of fear" [whereby] if they vote in a certain way and that candidate doesn't win there will be repercussions. From what I've heard, that has happened in the past. But now is the time for people to have courage and put the best interest of the game first, whoever the candidate is.
Q: You mention the "culture of fear." You're such an important figure in Asian football, yet you had to go beyond Asia to get all five of the endorsements you needed to run for president. Is this a reflection of this?
A: Yes, for some it's easier to come out in public and make a stand than it is for others who can only do so [secretly] by ballot. That's natural. But what is important is what happens on May 29.
Q: Luis Figo and Michael van Praag are also running against Blatter. Any thoughts on them?
A: I respect the other two candidates [Figo and van Praag] who actually came out with manifestos. At least they had the courage to come out with their opinions.
Q: You talked in your manifesto about the importance of having a public tender for World Cup broadcast rights. That's something that did not happen with the most lucrative rights of all -- North America -- for 2026. I'm not fully clear on what happened and why, but it seems to me like FIFA might have left a lot of money on the table ...
A: Yeah, I'm looking into the details of it and trying to figure out what exactly went wrong. I wasn't a member of those committees but in my opinion it's the wrong way of going about things. We're not talking about small sums of money. We're talking about huge sums of money that are potentially being wasted and not spent on future generations and not getting the best deal possible for FIFA. It's really irresponsible that these decisions have been taken. Things will become clearer once the elections are over and the next Executive Committee takes over. But we need to re-evaluate ourselves and our practices.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.