Earlier today, USSF president Sunil Gulati tweeted out that the federation would be supporting Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan for president of FIFA.
Prince Ali is definitely not the frontrunner for the election - that would be Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, president of the Asian Football Confederation.
US Soccer and Gulati have to know that Prince Ali is a longshot to win (though not as much of a longshot as fellow candidates Tokyo Sexwale and Jerome Champagne). So why endorse him at all? There is, after all, a very real possibility that if (when) Sheikh Salman wins, there could be backlash against the federations who didn't support him. Maybe not immediately, but down the road when the United States is making a bid for a World Cup.
But Prince Ali is considered the most progressive candidate. You can go read his campaign manifesto, which emphasizes transparency and reform. Some of the highlights include:
- publishing the Garcia Report on FIFA's handling of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids
- more diversity in senior management
- term limits for FIFA president and executive committee members
- increased investment in women's soccer, with a separate development budget, more resources for programs in underrepresented countries, and better funding for the Women's World Cup final
- upholding the ban on third party ownership
- making sure fines and other punishments for racist behavior are sufficiently severe to act as real deterrents
You can also read this interview he did with Grant Wahl in which he expounds on his reforms, including diversifying FIFA leadership and acting more transparently.
It all sounds pretty good (although as with most elections, what a candidate promises and what they deliver are usually two different things for various reasons). And because it all sounds so good, that's precisely why Prince Ali won't win.
So why back a loser when doing so could have real repercussions for US Soccer in the future? It may be that for Gulati and co., the substance of their endorsement is more important than its payout. Yeah, maybe they didn't shake the right hands in the right back rooms and maybe they won't get the 2026 World Cup, but they also didn't endorse a guy who's been accused of abetting "crimes against humanity." It's a statement to the players, coaches, staff, and fans that USSF is at least trying, even if they're definitely not perfect.
And who knows, maybe Prince Ali will be the central figure of a miracle in Zurich and he'll take the election. Weirder things have happened. Loretta Lynch could be waiting in the wings to make some last-minute arrests. Sepp Blatter could get visited overnight by three ghosts and truly repent.
In the end, I would rather a federation that's willing to take a hit for having some semblance of integrity rather than shrug and give in to the cynicism of politics.