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FIFA VP Prince Ali launches presidential bid against Blatter

Blatter, who seeks a fifth term, has been criticized for overseeing an allegedly corrupt international body

Sepp Blatter is facing a challenge from a 39-year-old Jordanian prince in his bid for a fifth term as president of soccer's scandal-tainted governing body.

Declaring that "it is time for a change," FIFA Vice President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein announced Tuesday he will be a candidate for the FIFA presidency on May 29 in Zurich, where Blatter will seek re-election at the age of 79.

"This was not an easy decision," the prince said in a single-page statement in which he pledged to run a positive campaign and did not specifically mention Blatter. "It came after careful consideration and many discussions with respected FIFA colleagues over the last few months."

"The message I heard, over and over, was that it is time for a change," said Prince Ali, who has been encouraged to run by European football governing body UEFA and its president, Michel Platini.

Platini, who opted last year not to challenge his onetime mentor Blatter, is "very pleased" with the prince's decision, the former France star's spokesman, Pedro Pinto, said Tuesday.

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Blatter's office.

Prince Ali is considered the main challenger to Blatter. Jerome Champagne of France, a former FIFA staffer and longtime ally of Blatter, has also announced his intention to run.

During Blatter's 17-year leadership, FIFA has been rocked by bribery allegations in presidential and World Cup hosting elections, kickbacks paid to senior officials and World Cup ticket scams.

FIFA's image sank further last month when ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia resigned with a parting shot at Blatter's leadership style and the organization's seeming unwillingness to reform itself.

Prince Ali said in his statement Tuesday that "it is time to shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport."

"The world's game deserves a world-class governing body — an international federation that is a service organization and a model of ethics, transparency and good governance," said Prince Ali, who joined FIFA's executive committee on the day of Blatter's most recent re-election in June 2011.

Blatter has survived by avoiding personal scandal and deft political mastery of an often secretive organization he joined in 1975, before Prince Ali was born. The veteran Swiss official has said his mission to lead world football is unfinished.

FIFA member federations — which elect the president in a secret ballot — have also shown little desire to remove Blatter as they receive increasing shares of billion-dollar annual income from commercial deals tied to the World Cup, sports' most-watched event.

Prince Ali did not specify which five of FIFA's 209 members will nominate him for the presidency, as required before a Jan. 29 deadline. He was expected to travel to Australia for the Asian Cup, which kicks off Friday, and an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) congress in Melbourne.

While he is likely to get support from much of Europe, he is far from certain to get a majority of support from the Asian confederation, which is led by Sheik Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

The AFC did not immediately reply to calls or emails seeking comment on Prince Ali's candidacy.

Sheik Salman pledged his support for Blatter at the confederation's 60th anniversary celebrations at Manila in November, confirming earlier support at the AFC congress in June.

"It was a unanimous decision," Salman said at the time. "After making the decision, we have to support it. We never go back on our words and commitments, that's how we are."

Prince Ali faces a potentially difficult round of AFC elections in May before getting to FIFA's polling day.

He is expected to cede his FIFA vice presidency to Salman when, as is likely, the Bahraini is re-elected AFC president. That move steered through by Salman last year leaves Prince Ali to contest an ordinary FIFA executive committee seat as one of Asia's four elected delegates to the Zurich-based board.

Prince Ali has led Jordan's football federation since 1999 and the following year founded the West Asian Football Federation.

At FIFA, he led the successful campaign to lift a ban on female Islamic players wearing headscarves in its competitions.

The Associated Press

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