Football: Fifa forum loses its fizz as only Champagne faces European Parliament

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

LONDON (REUTERS) - 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.

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

The debate was to have focused on the future of the 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 football body endures the worst graft scandal in its history.

Forty-one 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.

A spokesman for Sexwale told Reuters it made no sense to attend with only one other candidate confirmed. "We were on our way to Brussels, but we are turning around and going home," he said.