National Press Club

Soccer 'a force for good' and a tool against radicalization, Prince Ali says

December 5, 2015 | By Yasmine El-Sabawi | yasmine.elsabawi@gmail.com

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein (left) of Jordan receives National Press Club mug from Club President John Hughes following his luncheon address Dec. 4.

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein (left) of Jordan receives National Press Club mug from Club President John Hughes following his luncheon address Dec. 4.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Introducing the world’s most popular game -- soccer -- to young refugees is one of the accomplishments Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan is most proud of, he told a packed National Press Club luncheon Dec. 4.

Jordan is now hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, and many are “young boys and girls who have nothing to do with their time,” Al-Hussein said.

His non-profit Asian Football Development Project “teamed up with different governments as well as with non-government organizations to introduce football for boys and girls, as well as teaching them skills like mind-risk awareness,” he explained, using the international term for soccer.

“I think the UNHCR [United National High Commissioner for Refugees] will tell you right now that it's one of the most successful programs that has happened to refugees anywhere in the world,” he said.

Al-Hussein, a younger brother of the Hashemite Kingdom’s King Abdullah, is one of five candidates vying for the presidency of soccer’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, commonly known as FIFA. He currently serves as the organization’s president for Asia.

FIFA has been hit by a corruption scandal so big that more than two dozen of its top officials have been arrested this year and the president has been suspended.

In a bid to restore its integrity, Al Hussein said, FIFA must be turned into “a real service organization . . . we have to reverse the pyramid so we put the priorities of our players, our fans and the sport, at the top.”

The sport is a “force for good” and “bridges race, culture, religion, ethnicity and is an incredible catalyst for unity instead of division,” Al-Hussein emphasized, adding that “it’s no coincidence” that a stadium was targeted in Paris last month.

“In January of this year, ISIL gunned down 13 Iraqi teenagers in Mosul for simply watching a televised football match between the national teams of Iraq and Jordan. The football associations in Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia have been under attack if they continue to provide opportunities for their fellow citizens to enjoy football,” he noted.

The prince commended a program run by the Nigerian government where the sport is used to “deradicalize” former members of the militant group Boko Haram.

“FIFA has an obligation to support development worldwide . . . far too long, development funding has been used as a favor to be bestowed in return for loyalty to FIFA’s leadership, and occasionally as punishment,” he said.

“Depoliticizing development by instituting clear processes and criteria providing development funds is essential to changing the culture at FIFA,” he added.

“Good governance and transparency” are Al Hussein’s top priorities should he be elected by FIFA’s 209 members in February, he affirmed.

The “most basic set of acceptable norms” would be to publish meeting minutes and financial documents, he said.

The prince also advocated for a limit of two consecutive leadership terms at FIFA, as well as “a day where there shouldn't be a quota” for women, who must be represented in every national association, he said.