(ATR) The Dutchman today confirmed he is withdrawing from the race for the FIFA presidency and confirms he will throw his support behind Sepp Blatter's Jordanian challenger Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein.
In a statement titled "FIFA presidential candidate Michael van Praag joins Prince Ali Al Hussein", his campaign team announced Van Praag's decision.
Rumors had swirled over the past 24 hours that the Dutch FA president was about to quit the race.
The trio held talks in Geneva last week but Prince Ali could not persuade them that he had the best chance of unseating Sepp Blatter at the FIFA election on May 29. yesterday, both Van Praag and Figo maintained that they would stay in the contest.
"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 and to join forces with presidential candidate Prince Ali Al Hussein," Van Praag's statement said.
"An explanation for this decision will be given at a joint (international) press meeting, scheduled to take place tonight in Amsterdam."
The press conference will take place at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel at 20.00 hrs.
Van Praag will explain his decision to media at the briefing. Prince Ali will also give a statement.
The 67-year-old former Ajax chairman Dutchman launched his campaign to oust Blatter on Jan. 26 in Amsterdam after his vociferous criticism of the Swiss last summer at the UEFA Congress in Sao Paulo.
Of the three UEFA-backed candidates vying for the top job in world football, Van Praag was easily the most impressive performer at this year's UEFA Congress in Vienna where each of Blatter's challengers were given time to present their manifestos.
His volley of criticism about Blatter’s leadership was made in the presence of the Swiss. "The beautiful heritage of international football has been tarnished by ever continuing accusations of corruption, bribery, nepotism and waste of money," he told officials from Europe’s 54 federations.
"Don’t get me wrong, FIFA has accomplished great things. But the current state of disarray asks for a change in leadership. I cannot look away. It is the responsibility of our generation to clean up the mess."
Under his manifesto, his plan was to serve one term only at the helm of world football, starting what her termed a "normalisation process towards a more open, democratic and credible FIFA, to be handed over to the next generation in 2019".
While Van Praag was able to sound off at the UEFA Congress, there were no further opportunities in his three-month campaign to speak at regional congresses. He and his fellow candidates were not given any air time at the CONMEBOL, CONCACAF or AFC Congresses in April, limiting the impact of his global appeal to win the support of federations outside Europe many of whom are staunch Blatter loyalists.
Van Praag was not the only candidate to step out of the race on May 21. Rival Luis Figo withdrew from the race citing the unfairness of the election process for his decision.
"Over the past few months I have not only witnessed that desire for change, but I have witnessed consecutive incidents, all over the world, that should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic," Figo wrote on his Facebook page.
"Does anyone think it's normal that an election for one of the most relevant organizations on the planet can go ahead without a public debate? Does anyone think it's normal that one of the candidates doesn't even bother to present an election manifesto that can be voted on May 29?
"That would be normal, but this electoral process is anything but an election."
The former Portuguese national team star was considered a "shock" entrant in the presidential race when he announced his candidacy on Jan. 28.
After sitting at FIFA's top table as a vice-president of world football's governing body for four years, Prince Ali was always considered the brightest hope of bringing down Blatter thanks to his global connections in the game.
It seemed merely a question of when not if the 39-year-old's rivals would step aside.
Reported by Mark Bisson
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