MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A parade of powerful Asian soccer officials lined up to back Sepp Blatter’s bid for a fifth consecutive term as FIFA president on Friday, underlining the task candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein has in unseating the Swiss incumbent.
The Jordanian prince’s decision to run for world soccer’s top job has breathed new life into the race but senior officials at an Asian Football Confederation meeting in Melbourne said the 47-member Asian bloc was united in its backing for Blatter.
AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said the governing body had agreed to back Blatter at meetings in 2013 and 2014 and the position had not wavered.
“We are committed, all the member associations are committed to (Blatter) and from what I heard from them, today and the last few days, we will continue to commit to that promise,” Shaikh Salman told reporters after the AFC extraordinary congress in Melbourne on Friday.
“We all know the decision has been made – if we are committed we never change our word.
“I don’t want to give false hopes to anybody. I have to be clear on that.”
Prince Ali, an AFC vice-president, was one of the last to arrive at the congress and swept into the meeting room at a luxury hotel in Melbourne in campaign mode, shaking hands with every delegate within reach.
He has strong European backing in the presidential race, which culminates in an election in Zurich in May, but analysts believe the key battleground will be Asia, with the African bloc having already pledged their support for Blatter.
The Jordanian royal may also find support in CONCACAF, the confederation of North American and Caribbean countries, which is no longer as solidly behind Blatter as it was in the past.
The support of Olympic Council of Asia boss Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, one of the world’s most powerful sports officials, has been seen as vital for Prince Ali’s hopes of swaying Asian candidates.
But the Kuwaiti also poured cold water on his candidacy.