Jan 5, 2011

FRESH PRINCE OF SPORT


Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan lists mountain climbing among his sporting interests. This is entirely appropriate. The president of Jordan’s Football Association is intent on scaling a mountain of very different proportions. He wants to take over as the Asian Football Confederation’s vice-president of FIFA.

The position has been held, for the past 16 years, by Chung Mong-joon of South Korea. But Prince Ali’s candidacy reflects what he believes to be a mood for change, for a breath of fresh air, at the highest level of both the regional and the world game.

The average age of the FIFA executive committee is up in the higher 60s while Prince Ali is 35. But comparative youth does not mean a lack of experience or knowledge of sport from either participatory or administrative aspects.

Prince Ali, son of the late King Hussein and late Queen Alia, recalls: “I remember playing football as a young child, then at school I played rugby as well. I tried my hand at wrestling when I was studying in the United States and then, when I attended Sandhurst [Royal Military Academy] in England I was a boxer. After that, in the military I did a lot of sky-diving. Also mountain climbing. So I can say I know about many sports from the grass roots level.

“Knowing the value of sport is one of the reasons I want to make the most of this opportunity and take football forward in Asia.”

Becoming a commander officer in the world of football was a step Prince Ali made in 1999 when he succeeded his brother as president of the Jordan FA. One year later his sense of mission and vision found practical effect when he created the West Asian Football Association which now has 13 members.

His personal stature is secured by not only his hands-on education in world affairs but by awards and titles which include a British Knighthood, the French L├ęgion d'honneur, and Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun.

Explaining the history of the West Asian FA, he says: “There was already an East Asian federation as well as the ASEAN federation. Of course we also had the Arab Football Federation but that included nations from the African confederation. The west of Asia did not have a voice of its own and this was highly important considering the pace of development in football.”

Asia is one of the six confederations of world federation FIFA but it is unique in being, geographically, horizontal and boasting a land mass which covers 44million km. This makes Asia by far the planet’s largest continent and the confederation has reached ever further since Australia joined in 2006.

This factor presents a major challenge for those directors and officials who want to see Asia more fully integrated into the world game. This means not only improved communication with the other confederations in general – and Europe in particular - and who want a far more comprehensive and enduring development structure.

As Prince Ali says: “There are a lot of divisions within Asia and Asian football and I believe my programme is one to achieve the unity we have lacked until now. For me, this is the only way we can go forward – all together.”

January 6th in Doha are the date and place for a vote which has massive implications for the future of the Asian confederation - Qatar’s 2022 World Cup success having placed it in the world game’s spotlight as never before.

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