As officials in soccer’s highest body, FIFA, face dozens of corruption charges, its Swiss president Josef “Sepp” Blatter is suspiciously clear of accusations.
But Blatter faces reelection to a fifth term Friday, which until Wednesday’s round of arrests he was predicted to win handily. The only other candidate with his name on the ballet: Prince Ali bin Hussein, a Jordanian noble who oversees FIFA’s Asian operations and is the half-brother of Jordan’s king, Abdullah II. (RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About FIFA And The World’s Biggest Sports Scandal)
The other two men who were candidates for the post, Portugal’s Luís Figo and the Netherland’s Michael van Praag, both withdrew their candidacies last week, expressing their disgust with the corruption that an FBI investigation finally brought to light Wednesday. Figo told reporters at the time that the process was “anything but an election,” calling it instead “the delivery of absolute power to one man,” who oversees FIFA’s annual operations of over $1 billion.
That leaves Prince Ali as the sole challenger to Blatter. In a statement released Wednesday, the prince called the unprecedented corruption charges “a sad day” for the sport, declining to make any other comment.
The day before, though, Prince Ali reported an incident to the police, in which an unknown individual approached him and promised that for the right price, he could deliver 47 out of the 209 FIFA electors’ votes on Friday.
Initial speculation suggests that Blatter is still likely to win reelection to the post, which he has held since 1998. But Michel Platini, the head of FIFA’s European branch UEFA, has expressed his support for Prince Ali’s candidacy, and may be able to influence other voters to bring a change in FIFA’s top leadership.
During his stints at the helm of the Jordan Football Association and FIFA Asia, Prince Ali helped end FIFA’s ban on female athletes wearing Islamic headscarves. The move was widely seen as a step toward empowering women’s sports in more conservative majority-Muslim countries, where women would otherwise be kept out of participating in the world’s most popular sport.
Blatter has been a symbol of corruption in international soccer to many observers for years, dating back to allegations surrounding his first election in 1998. He and his deputies are widely accused of accepting bribes in the bid period for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which will be hosted by Russia and Qatar. Qatar in particular is seen as an unsuitable and unlikely host for the summertime tournament, as a tiny country where temperatures can reach well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit — such that one can bake cookies in a car parked outside.
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