May 21, 2015 / 5:17 PM / 5 years ago

WRAPUP 2-Soccer-Blatter challengers down to one after Figo, Van Praag withdraw

* Blatter up against Prince Ali in presdential election

* Figo launches withering attack on FIFA

* Blatter opponents must unite - Van Praag

By Brian Homewood

BERNE, May 21 (Reuters) - Luis Figo and Michael van Praag pulled out of the FIFA presidential election race on Thursday, leaving Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein as the only challenger to incumbent and runaway favourite Sepp Blatter.

Figo went out with a bang as he launched a blistering attack on the electoral system of soccer’s governing body, saying it was a “plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man — something I refuse to go along with.”

The former Portugal forward added: “Over the past few months I have not only witnessed that desire (for change), I have witnessed consecutive incidents, all over the world, that should shame anyone who desires soccer to be free, clean and democratic.

“I have seen with my own eyes federation presidents who, after one day comparing FIFA leaders to the devil, then go on stage and compare those same people with Jesus Christ. Nobody told me about this. I saw it with my own eyes.

“I am firm in my desire to take an active part in the regeneration of FIFA and I will be available for it whenever it is proven to me that we are not living under a dictatorship.”

Blatter, 79, is widely to expected to be re-elected for a fifth term on May 29, even though, under his watch, FIFA has been plagued by a wave of scandals and controversy.

These have ranged from allegations of corruption in the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process to a row over $25,000 watches gifted to executive committee members at the World Cup in Brazil last year.

UEFA, with 53 of the 209 votes at the election, have said they will not back Blatter, but the Swiss has widespread promises of support from the rest of the world.

Dutch FA president Van Praag pledged to back Prince Ali and, in a joint press conference in Amsterdam, said that the only way to unseat Blatter was for his opponents to unite.

Van Praag said Prince Ali had agreed to back his human rights and governance commitments, including ensuring better protections for migrant workers in 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.

“He is the one candidate who has the biggest chance to challenge Sepp Blatter,” Van Praag said.

“If the football family follows their desires, and if things are done in a correct way with no interference, we have a great chance of making that change,” Prince Ali said.

NO MANIFESTO

Figo complained that Blatter’s rivals were prevented from speaking at the Congresses of the continental confederations, apart from UEFA, and that Blatter had failed to present a manifesto or engage with his opponents.

“After a personal reflection and sharing views with two other candidates in this process, I believe that what is going to happen on May 29 in Zurich is not a normal electoral act. And because it is not, don’t count on me.”

“There has not been a single public debate about each candidate’s proposals,” said the 42-year-old Figo, Portugal’s most capped player with 127 appearances.

“Does anyone think it’s normal that an election for one of the most relevant organisations 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.”

Figo said he had received an “incredible wave of support from soccer players, former players, coaches, referees and administrators.”

But he concluded: “I do not fear the ballot box, but I will not go along with nor will I give my consent to a process which will end on May 29 and from which soccer will not emerge the winner.”

Blatter has been in power since 1998 and gone back an a pledge that his current mandate would be his last.

Prince Ali, a member of FIFA’s executive committee, is regarded as a progressive candidate.

He was instrumental in persuading soccer’s rule-making body to allow Islamic women footballers to wear the hijab, or headscarf, when they play. (Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; editing by Justin Palmer)

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