Fifa forum disrupted by candidate withdrawals

Fifa presidential candidate Jerome Champagne speaks during a Reuters interview in Switzerland, on Oct 30, 2015.
Fifa presidential candidate Jerome Champagne speaks during a Reuters interview in Switzerland, on Oct 30, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • A planned televised debate involving the men battling to become the next president of Fifa descended into farce on Monday after all but one candidate withdrew amid talk of "political interference".

Frenchman Jerome Champagne will now be the only one of the five to address the forum in Brussels, jointly organised by the New Fifa Now pressure group and the European Parliament's Sports Intergroup.

United States sports television network ESPN cancelled plans to broadcast a live stream of the debate from the parliament building.

Champagne, a former Fifa deputy general secretary, said he would be there regardless.

The debate was to have focused on the future of football's crisis-hit world governing body and provide a forum for "open, transparent discussion" ahead of the Feb 26 presidential election in Zurich.

Sepp Blatter, president since 1998, and Uefa president Michel Platini have been banned from football for eight years by Fifa's ethics committee as the world body endures the worst graft scandal in its history.

A total of 41 individuals, many of them national association presidents, and entities have been indicted in the United States for bribery, money laundering and wire fraud since May.

While Champagne will speak to delegates, there will be a video presentation from his presidential rival Gianni Infantino, the Uefa general secretary. It was already known that Infantino, currently in Paraguay attending meetings of the South American confederation Conmebol, and Sheikh Salman Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain would not attend the meeting.

However, Prince Ali Al-Hussein of Jordan and South African Tokyo Sexwale withdrew on Monday.

Prince Ali told the Sports Intergroup that he feared the meeting might break Fifa's election rules on political interference.

He said he believed another candidate had made a complaint to the Fifa ad hoc electoral committee that is monitoring the election that hosting the debate might constitute "political interference".

A spokesman for Infantino said the Swiss had made no complaint, as did a spokesman for Salman.

A spokesman for Sexwale said it made no sense to attend with only one other candidate confirmed.

Damian Collins, who co-founded New Fifa Now, refuted any claims of political bias, saying the debate was taking place in a neutral venue that has no executive powers relating to sport.

"We are merely trying to put legitimate questions about the future of Fifa to presidential candidates as members of various parliaments as well as on behalf of fans and other key stakeholders," Collins said.

"Any organisation interested in, or committed to, democracy, transparency and accountability would understand this as should the people who want to be Fifa president."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Fifa forum disrupted by candidate withdrawals'. Print Edition | Subscribe