It was exactly a year ago to this day that Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan became an immediate player in world football, when he unseated 16-year incumbent Chung Mong Joon of South Korea from the FIFA vice presidency.
Then 35, Prince Ali became the youngest on FIFA’s 24-man executive committee, which in the following months came under intense scrutiny after several members were implicated in a bribery scandal that shook world soccer’s governing body to the core.
Among those implicated was Asian Football Confederation President Mohammed Bin Hammam, who went from challenging Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency to being banned from the game for life.
Prince Ali’s first year as FIFA vice president turned out to be nothing short of tumultuous for Asian soccer, with the change at the top of the AFC and Japan winning a record fourth Asian Cup and the Women’s World Cup — the continent’s first ever world title at national team or club level.
Women’s World Cup MVP and top scorer Homare Sawa is also a good bet to be named world female player of the year at the FIFA Ballon d’Or on Monday, which would also be a first for Asia.
Despite a topsy-turvy 2011, Prince Ali insists Asia has propped itself back up and is becoming more united under acting AFC President Zhang Jilong of China.
“I think I’m learning,” Prince Ali stated in an interview with Kyodo News. “Things are going very well in the Asian Football Confederation. There is good teamwork under the circumstances. What happened did not happen on our continent so it’s not our issue. But having stated that, we have to continue the work.
“It’s been a very, very interesting time. Hopefully in three years, we will have achievements that will make Asia proud,” he said.
Last month during the Club World Cup, FIFA unveiled a list of members of an independent governance committee as part of its efforts to clean up the organization.
Prince Ali believes it is a step in regaining the faith and confidence of the public but stated FIFA must go all the way for reform to be truly carried out.
He also stated he wants to be more involved in helping FIFA restore its image and credibility.
“For me, I would like to somehow get more engaged in that,” stated the son of the late King Hussein and Queen Alia. “I’m the youngest member of the FIFA executive committee, and there is a time frame which is quite short.
“The important thing is that it gets done, but it has to be really comprehensive. There is a healthy debate going on, so I’m quite optimistic,” he said.
One of Prince Ali’s pet projects is to further develop the women’s game.
For starters, he is pushing for worldwide admission during matches of the hijab — the headscarf worn by Muslim women — which already has FIFA’s blessing and will be tabled before the International Football Association Board in March.
As an example of the hijab’s safety, Prince Ali cited the facemask worn by Japan defender Tsuneyasu Miyamoto at the 2002 World Cup. Miyamoto, nicknamed “Batman” for wearing the headgear, had no issues performing as he marshaled the Japanese defense en route to the second round.
“What we want is to encourage our women, no matter where they come from. It’s a mutual respect as well,” stated Prince Ali. “In 2002, you have a Japanese player playing with a full face mask. FIFA’s been very positive.
“There is a lot more to do. It is a great credit to the Nadeshiko for winning the World Cup and their spirit is what carried them through. But still we are lacking a lot in terms of investing in women’s football in Asia.
“I witness across Asia that there is sometimes a tiny bit of an either-or attitude, and I do not think it needs to be like that. If you support women’s football, you have to take away from men’s football — and that is not the case,” he said.
Prince Ali will continue to count on Japan to lead the way for Asia not just in women’s football, where they are world champions, but in all aspects of soccer.
He especially wants to retain the services of Japan Football Association President Junji Ogura in some capacity after the former FIFA executive committee member steps down later this year due to mandatory retirement.
Prince Ali would like Ogura to work with the Asian Football Development Project, a non-profit arm he himself has founded to aid and complement AFC’s projects such as Vision Asia.
“He has a large role to play. We did suffer a bit from losing Mr. Ogura from the executive committee,” Prince Ali said. “With the Asian Football Development Project, we will look to his advice.
“At the end of the day, Japanese football is at the top level and what you have achieved in a short period of time is great,” he added.
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