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RPT-NEWSMAKER-Soccer-Victory or bust for Jordan's charming Prince Ali

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By Mike Collett

LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - A quiet, steely, determination runs through Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the Jordanian royal who has brought a breath of fresh air to FIFA politics since he was elected to its executive committee four years ago.

Prince Ali, 39, has gained widespread support as something of a reforming influence on the executive but unless he wins the presidential election on May 29 in Zurich, that influence will end.

Not everyone supports the idea of reform and modernisation at world soccer's top table and he has become the victim of political machinations in his own Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

That means the seat he occupies as vice-president will now be taken by AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

Ali, who exudes a polite charm and never appears flustered at least in public, does not have a problem with that principle.

But he was not prepared to stand as an ordinary Asian member seeking a seat back on the FIFA executive committee through a vote by AFC delegates after the AFC last year endorsed Sepp Blatter to continue as president.

Ali and Blatter, once close, became politically estranged because of moves behind the scenes and also because Ali was not prepared to sit back and be a good boy as the youngest member on the executive and do as he was told.

He quickly saw where reforms should be made and is now challenging for the presidency on a platform to change FIFA and unseat Blatter, who originally welcomed him as an amenable ally.

His manifesto "A FIFA Worthy of the World's Game" emphasises the need to have a more open and transparent organisation.

"It is time to shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport. The headlines should be about football again, not FIFA," he said when launching his campaign in January.

Although some doubts have surfaced that his fellow challengers Luis Figo of Portugal, and Michael van Praag of the Netherlands might pull out of the campaign, Prince Ali has never countered that option.

He was quick to correct a rumour that suggested he was thinking of doing that last month, and of all the candidates he appears to have the strongest global support. Whether that will be enough to see him win the ballot, is of course, another matter.

PROUD HERITAGE

As a member of the Jordanian royal family, and the third son of the late King Hussein, Prince Ali has a proud family heritage and has enjoyed certain privileges.

But he has used those blessings to his advantage and not abused them.

Educated in the United States and at Sandhurst military academy in England, he was a star at wrestling and became the president of his country's football association at the age of 25, a position he still holds.

By 35 he was Asia's vice-president on FIFA and among other things he founded the West Asian Football Federation giving a greater voice to the countries in his region.

He also founded the Asian Football Development Programme (AFDP) which has ploughed vast resources into the grass roots of the game across the vast, sprawling populous continent.

One of his most notable victories was successfully fighting to lift the ban which forbade women and girls playing organised football wearing the hijab or head-scarf.

He also helped Jordan win the right to stage next year's Under-17 women's World Cup in the heart of the Arab world.

One of his failures was trying to get FIFA to make public the findings of the Michael Garcia report into alleged corruption surrounding the awarding by world soccer's governing body of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

The report, though, has been buried in FIFA's vaults, and is now never likely to see the light of day.

Ali speaks quietly, has a modest air about him, commands respect and, in his own charming way, generally speaks a great deal of sense.

Those qualities might not be enough to enable him to unseat Blatter but it would be to FIFA's detriment if they were lost to the organisation for good. (Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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