With a week left before FIFA elects a new president, Jordan's Prince Ali Al Hussein, the only candidate to have faced off against Sepp Blatter in last year's vote, has ramped up his campaign.
The field is still wide open with five candidates vying for the position. Prince Ali has vowed to clean FIFA if he wins, and return the organization's focus to the sport itself.
His leading rivals are UEFA Secretary General Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the Bahraini president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), who was criticized by human rights groups for inaction following Arab Spring demonstrations in his country that saw footballers imprisoned and tortured.
Other contenders are former FIFA secretary general Jerome Champagne and Tokyo Sexwale, a wealthy South African businessman and former government minister.
Earlier this week, the Prince criticized FIFA's integrity, noting that its electoral committee chief, Domenico Scala—who also chairs its compliance committee —shares a nationality with one of the candidates, Infantino.
At a press conference a week ago in Geneva, Prince Ali broadened his criticism, accusing Sheikh Salman of not protecting his country's players following pro-democracy protests. Salman has said he never played a role in Bahrain's government or in the imprisonment or torture of individuals.
Vice Sports caught up with Prince Ali after the conference, where he spoke about the past year's events, his campaign and his future plans.
Vice Sports: Given the changes to FIFA being proposed by the organization's reform committee, is the timing right for this election? Shouldn't reforms have been adopted beforehand?
Prince Ali: I think we have wasted a lot of time and it is important to get things going. There has been a stalling of things and if you look at it realistically for national associations, they are suffering, because things are not moving, development programs are not coming in, and the world wants to move on. So I believe that we have to have the election as soon as possible.
Whether it could have been conducted differently, sure, there are issues there. I support reform, and the proposals that have been made (by the reform committee). They haven't gone far enough but the fact that they are going to implement them before electing a new president, is in itself a bit strange. But that's the way it is.
Vice Sports: After the many elections in which Sepp Blatter faced little opposition, should we be surprised that there are so many candidates wanting to replace him?
Prince Ali: I was the only candidate who faced Sepp Blatter in the last election. I have had a very consistent position all along. I am not like other candidates who were supportive of president Blatter in the past and then all of a sudden turned into reformers. I am consistent, and I think that is what the world wants, and in particular the national associations.
Vice Sports: Where has the support that you had last year gone?
Prince Ali: I am for the whole world and my support came from across the globe. And that is the same case now. I am the only candidate who is the president of a national association and from a developing country as well. I was elected for four years on the FIFA executive committee and I chose to leave the executive committee because I didn't like the way things were going. I realized, as I love the sport, that the only way to make a difference is to challenge and to go for the presidency. That's why I did it and that's why I am doing it today.
Vice Sports: What was your relationship with Sheikh Salman at the time that he decided to run?
Prince Ali: He is a confederation president in Asia. He had announced his support at the time for UEFA president, Michel Platini, and then following the unfortunate things that happened to Platini, decided to run himself. I cannot speak for him, but that's the case today, and that's democracy.
Vice Sports: Certain commentators have said that Sheikh Salman will need your support to win. If you don't get to the second round, would you be supporting him?
Prince Ali: Well I am a candidate who doesn't make deals or cut deals. I think that that is crucially important and I don't pressure people to go one way or another. It's up to every national association to decide where they want to go.
Vice Sports: Sepp Blatter left many women in football feeling alienated. Where do you see women in football as we go forward, whether you win or not?
Prince Ali: It is the greatest growth area in football. But a lot of things need to be tackled to improve women's football. I have said they we have to have a separate program for development of women's football, because sometimes there is a reality within national associations, especially that have difficult financial situations, that they might think that if you support women's football, it takes away support from men's football, so I think there should be a clear separation.
In terms of the organization itself, there needs to be more women's representation. If you look at big companies or organizations around the world, even staff-wise it's 30 percent of the staff is women. If you look at women in football, I think because they have to (they have tried to increase numbers), (but what they have done has been) they have been much more challenging in terms where they have gone.
I have worked with colleagues, such as Moya Dodd, from Australia (a member of FIFA's executive committee and former player), and (former national team goalkeeper) Mary Harvey from the United States, who are not just former players, but who also have university degrees, MBAs or are lawyers. So there is so much potential there. I even see, for example, within FIFA that there is actually a disparity between salaries for men and women, even though they are doing the same jobs. So there are a lot of issues we need to tackle in terms of women's football. And I am a great promoter of women's football.
Vice Sports: You have been critical of FIFA's recent decision to cut funds to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL federations, following the massive number of regional officials charged with corruption. What do you suggest needs to be done in order to see effective change within the region?
Prince Ali: Let me be clear on that issue. There has been a lot going on in terms obviously of corruption and problems within CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. But just recently in CONMEBOL, they had a new election and they have a new president of the confederation. He has put forth his ideas, his directives, which are very similar to what I want to do.
In CONCACAF, they are also working towards change. But the idea of collective punishment, and especially for national associations that have nothing to do with what was happening — because the issue is with the confederations and how they are administered – I think that is a real shame. It also is suspect when a couple of weeks before the elections, these things are coming out. Had they wanted to freeze support for the confederations, they would have done it automatically when the issues arose, not when they are going in the elections. Quite frankly whether it was planned before or not, the chairman of the electoral committee, who is also the chairman of the compliance committee (Domenico Scala), did this. It is very, very strange timing.
But for me, I would not allow development to be stopped because of the actions of individuals. It is just unfair and not right for this world.