Luis Figo: ‘This is not an election,’ says presidential candidate

CNN  — 

And then there were two.

In the battle for control of world football, Sepp Blatter now just has to see off Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein after Portuguese Luis Figo pulled out of the race to be the next FIFA president.

“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,” the former World Player of the Year said in a statement, as he reflected on his ultimately unsuccessful election campaign.

“Nobody told me about this. I saw it with my own eyes.”

Figo’s announcement followed hot on the heels of Dutch football chief Michael van Praag’s withdrawal, leaving Prince Ali as the only challenger to current incumbent Blatter – who has held an iron grip on football’s top office since 1998.

The Swiss 79-year-old is expected to be voted in for a fifth term in office in the May 29 ballot.

As he exited the race, Figo suggested FIFA and Blatter had plenty of work to restore its much-maligned reputation.

Read: The world according to Sepp – FIFA’s PR gaffes

Only this week FIFA was again forced to answer allegations of poor working conditions and abuse of migrant workers brought in to build the facilities for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

“I traveled and met extraordinary people who, though they recognized the value of much that had been done, also concurred with the need for change, one that cleans up FIFA’s reputation as an obscure organization that is so often viewed as a place of corruption,” said the Portuguese great.

“But 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.”

FIFA declined to comment when contacted by CNN.

Read: Qatar pledge on worker rights a “mere PR stunt”

Luis Figo revealed his candidacy exclusively through CNN in January.

Figo also criticized the way FIFA has managed the build-up to the election, which will take place at its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, and Blatter’s apparent unwillingness to campaign or properly outline his vision for world football.

“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?” he added,

“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? Shouldn’t it be mandatory to present such a manifesto so that federation presidents know what they’re voting for?

“That would be normal, but this electoral process is anything but an election.

“This (election) process is a plebiscite for the delivery of absolute power to one man - something I refuse to go along with.

“That is why, 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.”

While Blatter has overseen the first World Cups in Africa and Asia – South Africa in 2010 and Japan and South Korea in 2002 – he has also presided over a decline in the public’s perception of FIFA.

Corruption allegations relating to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively, have damaged FIFA and by extension Blatter’s credibility.

Blatter himself has also been criticized for a string of gaffes, including suggestions that women should wear “tighter shorts” and that racism could be settled with a handshake.