Friday 17 November 2017

BBC abandon plans for televised debate between camera-shy Fifa presidential candidates

Fifa presidential candidate Jerome Champagne
Fifa presidential candidate Jerome Champagne

Martyn Ziegler

The BBC has been forced to abandon its plans to hold a debate between the FIFA presidential candidates.

It is the third time a debate between the five candidates has had to be dropped in the space of a week as those in the running to succeed Sepp Blatter shy away from the public stage.

ESPN has also abandoned its attempt to host a debate, while one organised for the campaign group New FIFA Now in the European parliament on Wednesday saw only one candidate - Frenchman Jerome Champagne - attend.

BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire said on Twitter: "We've pulled our live head-to-head TV debate with FIFA Presidential hopefuls. After one declined, some others wanted to, um, move the goalposts."

Conservative MP Damian Collins, one of the New FIFA Now founders, criticised Domenico Scala, the head of FIFA's independent audit and compliance committee, for not issuing a statement clearing the candidates to debate in the European parliament.

Collins told a news conference in Brussels: "This would have been the only debate between the FIFA presidential candidates, ESPN and the BBC had tried.

"We are thankful and grateful to have Jerome Champagne who ignored the behaviour of the other candidates and decided to turn up. There is one person who could have put this uncertainty to one side and that is Domenico Scala. It would be ridiculous to believe a debate in the European parliament could constitute political interference in football, he simply refused to give any guidance at all."

Champagne, who spent 11 years working at FIFA including as deputy secretary general, reiterated his promise to look to move the 2022 Qatar World Cup back to April or May of that year instead of the November and December dates decided last year.

The other four candidates bidding to succeed Sepp Blatter are: Asian football president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, South African politician and businessman Tokyo Sexwale and UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.

Champagne also criticised how allegations of wrongdoing have been handled by UEFA, whose general secretary Gianni Infantino is one of his rivals in the FIFA election.

Champagne did not name Infantino but raised questions over UEFA's 2012 European Championship bidding process - which was won by Poland and Ukraine - and match-fixing cases from 2011 in Turkey and 2015 in Greece.

Champagne told the news conference in Brussels: "Was there an investigation for the vote in 2007 for the Euro 2012? No. Look at the controversies regarding the way match-fixing is dealt with in Greece and Turkey."

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