Q&A: Fifa presidential candidate Prince Ali bin al-Hussein on his plans to save football
Prince Ali al-Hussein, of Jordan, is among five candidates vying to become president of embattled football world governing body Fifa. He gave the Post an insight into his plans for the game – and China in particular
How can Fifa possibly be redeemed? Surely we should scrap it and start again?
Fifa doesn’t need to start again. Yes, Fifa’s crisis is unprecedented in modern sport but this is a crisis of leadership. A lot of good things have happened at Fifa over the years. The problem is these positives have been lost in a cloud of negativity and scandal.
We have to revisit our priorities, provide more transparency and build a federation that is fit for the 21st century and serves football, and not the other way around.
For this to happen we need to change the culture at the top. We [need] responsible leadership which sets the example to follow.
Having lost the Fifa presidential election in 2015, why would you succeed now?
In the last election we had a third of the vote and therefore could have taken it to another round, but I made a conscious decision not to. This decision was taken to protect the national associations who had been brave enough to show their support for me in the first round.
My motivations for running again are the same now as before – I love football, and football deserves to be governed by an organisation that is worthy of the world’s game. That is the only reason why I am fighting for the presidency. From spending time meeting national associations and listening to what they need I believe there is significant sentiment for positive change – change that I can bring by working hand-in-hand with associations.
President Xi Jinping has declared that China must become a soccer superpower. How could you help the country achieve those goals?
My experience is that Chinese fans love the sport and want to see their nation succeed. Therefore, these fans need a Fifa that helps harness this passion.
The large clubs in Europe have recognised the power of Chinese football fans. They know the importance of building a Chinese fanbase, not only for their purchasing power, but because of the love for the game and the passion for seeing football of the highest standard. China deserves a Fifa that will help it build a league that will attract the top players in their prime, to their own clubs as well as having a league that can compete at the highest level. Chinese football is moving in the right direction and will no doubt one day host a World Cup.
Helping to encourage, coach and recognise young talent is very important, as is the education of these young players – through football – about different cultures and nationalities. China has started recognising the importance of this, with initiatives such as the Grassroots Football project, yet I believe there needs to be more done by the clubs. Fifa can help, and should have done more already.
President Xi Jinping has led in rooting out corruption in football. He has become a champion for the cause. His role is an example because it elevates the sport. Fifa must follow president [Xi]’s lead to ensure that the authorities always take action against those responsible.
Given the controversy over 2018 and 2022 re human rights abuses etc, would you want more bad headlines along the same lines if the 2026 World Cup went to China as some predict?
With correct procedures, proper due diligence and a transparent bidding process there would be no bad headlines. China has hosted a successful Olympics and would make a worthy and successful World Cup host too.
What would a China World Cup mean for the global game?
Every country should have the opportunity to host the World Cup. It would also be a great boost for the game itself and open the world’s eyes to different cultures through football. Football has an unmatchable ability to create opportunities and bring different communities together. The potential good a country with the size, reach and power of China could do for the game is unimaginable.
How important is China to world football?
China is incredibly important to world football. From audience figures and marketability, to investment in coaching and training methods, China has and will continue to have an important role with world football. China has already been active, and I support what it has done so far. The international network many clubs have built with larger European clubs has been effective, with this sharing of information something I would love to see around the world. Further to this, we have begun to see the talent of China abroad as well. Sun Jihai’s stint in the Premier League is perhaps the most well-known, but there needs, and I believe there will be, more Chinese players given the opportunity to play overseas.
The perception is that you have lost the support of Asia. How can you win that back?
Perceptions are often not reality. I am a global candidate with global support. In fact the majority of my nominations were from Asia. I am Asian and am looking for support from Asia and China in particular.
The AFC has not exactly been a model of transparency and corruption-free governance. So why should we expect Fifa to be so under your leadership?
Change. A change in the way business is done, how responsibility is shared, but most importantly, in how we work. I promise to lead an open Fifa, a fair Fifa, one that doesn’t operate in grey areas.
I have already showed my hand in this respect. I was one of the first to call for the Garcia Report to be released, and I stand by that. If elected, I will immediately take steps to publish the minutes of Executive Committee meetings, making sure they are accurate, and institute proper disclosure of financial information, including the President’s salary. All the while, I will be listening. Listening to the needs, the requirements and the issues facing the national associations and working with them for the good of the game.