THE HAGUE: Dutch FIFA presidential candidate Michael van Praag on Thursday announced he was dropping his bid for the world football body’s presidency, saying he will back Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al Hussein instead against incumbent Sepp Blatter.
“After thorough deliberation and reflection with different involved parties and stakeholders, Michael van Praag decided to withdraw his candidacy to become the next FIFA president,” his public relations team said in a statement.
Van Praag will now “join forces with presidential candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein,” said the statement, issued from Amsterdam.
Van Praag, 67, is to give a news conference at 1800 GMT at an Amsterdam hotel to explain his decision and Prince Ali will also make a statement.
The Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB)– which backed Van Praag’s bid, including financing his travel and accommodation costs, declined to comment ahead of the press conference.
Dutch football boss Van Praag was one of three challengers to long-time FIFA president Blatter and were said to be facing an uphill battle to dethrone the Swiss veteran in an election on May 29.
Van Praag, a former Ajax chairman announced his candidacy in January, saying he wanted to modernize the world governing body “which has lost all credibility.”
FIFA had become ridden with suspicion, conflicts of interest and allegations of nepotism and corruption, Van Praag said at the time.
Apart from Van Praag and Prince Ali, former Portugal football star Luis Figo is also a contender — all three campaigning for change following scandals including over the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Observers said Prince Ali stood the best chance to unseat Blatter because the Jordanian had a better campaign budget and contacts within FIFA, having served on its executive committee since 2011.
Late last month both Van Praag and Figo left open the possibility of a strategic withdrawal in Prince Ali’s favour to unite the vote, while speaking at an Asian Football Confederation congress in Bahrain.
Dutch newspapers on Thursday already discussed Van Praag’s withdrawal, saying a question mark now hung over the former Real Madric galactico Figo’s decision.
Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported that Van Praag, Prince Ali and Figo met last week in Geneva to assess the candidates’ race.
“Prince Ali is believed to have had the most support after months of campaigning,” the Dutch daily tabloid said.
It added that should Figo throw his weight behind Prince Ali, he could bring “some six votes from former Portuguese colonies on the Blatter-minded African continent with him.”
The centre-left daily Volkskrant took a more cynical viewpoint.
“Van Praag’s brave attempt to become football’s highest boss was doomed from day one,” writes respected Dutch columnist Bert Wagendorp.
“It’s sad and indicative of the state of football that he (Blatter) finds himself in an untouchable position,” writes Wagendorp.
Football commentator Arno Vermeulen said Van Praag stepped into a world he knew nothing about.
“He (Van Praag) was a bit like (cartoon character) Tintin in the world of (fictious mafia boss) Don Corleone,” Vermeulen told the NOS public broadcaster.
Blatter, 79 is a strong favorite to win a fifth term at the head of the world’s most powerful sporting federation.
The election will be held at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29.
The winner will need a majority from FIFA’s 209 member federations. Blatter has received strong public backing from nearly every regional confederation except Europe’s UEFA.