Forum loses its fizz as only Champagne faces European Parliament

Mon Jan 25, 2016 4:44pm EST
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By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - A planned televised debate involving the men battling to become the next president of soccer body 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 organized by the New FIFA Now pressure group and the European Parliament's Sports Intergroup.

    U.S. sports television network ESPN canceled plans to broadcast a live stream of the debate from the parliament building.

Champagne, a former FIFA deputy general-secretary, told Reuters he would be there regardless.

"I will be in Brussels on Wednesday since this debate, far from being a form of governmental interference, constitutes an opportunity to expose visions for the future of football and to start rebuilding trust around FIFA," he said.

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 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.   Continued...

FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne of France speaks during a Reuters interview in Witikon, near Zurich, Switzerland October 30, 2015. Champagne, one of seven candidates for the February election, wants soccer's crisis-hit government body to be less formal and more humble in the future. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RTX1U0P8