FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali bin al-Hussein visited Zimbabwe and met with sports and political leaders on Tuesday, hoping to rally support on a continent that has long been a Sepp Blatter stronghold.
Prince Ali, a FIFA vice president and head of the Jordan Football Association, met with the president of Zimbabwe’s soccer body, the sports minister and the southern African nation’s vice president.
One of three men challenging Blatter for the FIFA presidency in elections in May, Prince Ali’s campaign has moved to Africa ahead of the Confederation of African Football’s general assembly in Cairo next week.
He is expected to attend that meeting alongside fellow challengers Michael van Praag and Luis Figo, but the trio aren’t likely to get the same warm welcome they received from European delegates at UEFA’s meeting last week in Austria.
Africa has long been a strong base of support for Blatter, where the 79-year-old Swiss is viewed as responsible for delivering the first World Cup to Africa in 2010, and increasing the amount of money FIFA gives to some of the sport’s poorer countries, many of which are African.
Blatter will attend CAF’s congress as FIFA president, and will make his traditional speech. It’s unclear if any of his opponents have been invited to address African delegates.
The continent is a key battleground if any of the candidates are going to unseat Blatter, who is the clear favorite to win the election in Zurich on May 29 for a fifth term in office, extending a reign at the top of world soccer that began in 1998.
Africa makes up 54 of the 209 FIFA member countries that will vote in the presidential election, the most of any of the six continental confederations.
Zimbabwe may have been a strategic place to start for Prince Ali after it was recently thrown out of 2018 World Cup qualifying by FIFA for failing to pay wages to a former national team coach.
The debt-ridden Zimbabwe Football Association expressed discontent with the way it had been treated, and pleaded for leniency and help from FIFA.
“We want FIFA to be inclusive,” Prince Ali said after his meetings, and in obvious reference to Zimbabwe’s problems. “We want federations to be self-sustaining and independent, having their dignity.”
ZIFA President Cuthbert Dube, previously a Blatter supporter, said Prince Ali’s visit highlighted “important issues that Zimbabwe needs more representation in FIFA and CAF so that the country benefits.”