PARIS, May 22- Luis Figo and Michael van Praag pulled out of the race for the FIFA presidency Thursday, leaving controversial incumbent Sepp Blatter in a straight fight with Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al Hussein.
Former Portuguese international captain Figo withdrew with a bitter broadside at the contentious election campaign.
“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,” Figo wrote on his Facebook page.
“My decision is made, I will not stand in what is being called an election for the FIFA presidency.”
Dutch FIFA presidential candidate van Praag also announced he was dropping his bid, saying he will back Prince Ali instead in the vote on May 29.
“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,” his public relations team said in a statement.
Van Praag will now “join forces with presidential candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein,” said the statement, issued from Amsterdam.
Figo used his Facebook announcement to condemn what he believes are double-standards in football’s global ruling bodies.
“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,” he wrote.
“The candidates were prevented from addressing federations at congresses while one of the candidates always gave speeches on his own from the rostrum.
“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?
– ‘Nepotism, corruption’ –
“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?”
Van Praag, a former Ajax chairman announced his candidacy in January, saying he wanted to modernise the world governing body “which has lost all credibility.”
FIFA had become ridden with suspicion, conflicts of interest and allegations of nepotism and corruption, Van Praag said at the time.
Van Praag, Prince Ali and Figo were all campaigning for change following scandals including over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Observers said Prince Ali stood the best chance to unseat Blatter because the Jordanian had a better campaign budget and contacts within FIFA, having served on its executive committee since 2011.
Late last month both Van Praag and Figo left open the possibility of a strategic withdrawal in Prince Ali’s favour to unite the vote, while speaking at an Asian Football Confederation congress in Bahrain.
Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported that Van Praag, Prince Ali and Figo met last week in Geneva to assess the candidates’ race.
“Prince Ali is believed to have had the most support after months of campaigning,” the Dutch daily tabloid said.
It added that should Figo throw his weight behind Prince Ali, he could bring “some six votes from former Portuguese colonies on the Blatter-minded African continent with him.”
Blatter, 79, is a strong favourite to win a fifth term at the head of the world’s most powerful sporting federation.
The election will be held at the FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29.
The winner will need a majority from FIFA’s 209 member federations. Blatter has received strong public backing from nearly every regional confederation except Europe’s UEFA.