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New FIFA own-goal after candidates' no-show for presidential debate

Soccer

European parliamentarians have reacted angrily after a debate between candidates for the FIFA presidency was cancelled because four of the five contenders declined to show up.

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The candidates had sent a bad signal to soccer fans around the world at a time when FIFA is mired in scandal, the parliamentarians said.

There are five men standing to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter as head of soccer’s world governing body. But only Frenchman Jerome Champagne turned up in Brussels overnight (Adelaide time) for the planned debate.

Where did the candidates go? What spooked them?

The other four contenders are Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein of Jordan, South African politician and businessman Tokyo Sexwale, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, and Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

“Where did the candidates go? What spooked them? Who or what stood to gain by making sure the event we had planned today did not happen?,” said Bonita Mersiades, co-founder of the New FIFA Now pressure group and chair of the meeting.

“I do know who stands to lose — its football. You would hope after the events of the last eight months the five men vying to be president of FIFA … might actually get this.”

FIFA is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis, with criminal investigations into the sport underway in the United States and Switzerland. Blatter and European soccer boss Michel Platini have been banned for eight years each.

Corruption-related offences have been levelled against 41 individuals and entities, including many former FIFA officials, in the United States. Swiss authorities are also investigating whether corruption played a role in FIFA’s awarding of World Cup hosting rights to Russia and Qatar.

The debate, due to be held at the European parliament in Brussels on Wednesday and broadcast by US sports network ESPN, collapsed after Prince Ali and Sexwale withdrew at 48 hours’ notice.

Ali claimed “political interference” – a reason MEP Marc Tarabvella described as “utterly ridiculous”.

Infantino originally said he would send a video link, while Salman said he would not come because of Asian confederation commitments.

“It is a terrible signal to football fans worldwide because if proves these candidates are not suited to guarantee the integrity FIFA so badly needs,” European MEP Ivo Belet of Belgium said.

British MEP Emma McClarkin said: “It’s the fans I feel sorry for, thinking that after Sepp Blatter stepped down there was light at the end of the tunnel. Instead these candidates have scored a massive own goal for FIFA today.”

The FIFA president is chosen by the 209 national football associations which are affiliated to it, each holding one vote.

-Reuters

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