By Simon Evans
MIAMI, (Reuters) – U.S. sports television network ESPN has invited the five candidates in FIFA’s presidential election to participate in a debate on the future of the crisis-hit governing body for world football.
“ESPN has invited all five candidates vying for the FIFA presidency to participate in a debate,” a network spokesman told Reuters via email on Tuesday.
“Our goal is to provide a forum for an open, transparent discussion about the future governance of the sport in advance of the election that will determine who occupies the most powerful position in global football.”
The candidates are Frenchman Jerome Champagne, Jordanian Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Swiss Gianni Infantino, Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
The vote for the next president is due to take place on Feb. 26 at a special congress in Zurich.
Sepp Blatter, president since 1998, has been banned from football for eight years by FIFA’s Ethics Committee and the organisation is currently being led by acting chief Issa Hayatou of Cameroon.
Champagne told the website ‘Sporting Intelligence’ the ESPN debate would be held in London on Jan. 29.
Former FIFA deputy general secretary Champagne also told Reuters he had agreed to participate and had long been in favour of such a discussion.
No televised debate has ever been held in a FIFA presidential election.
British broadcasters BBC and Sky made a similar proposal before May’s vote but Blatter, who won that election against Prince Ali, turned down the invitation.
Reuters contacted the spokesmen for Jordanian FA president Prince Ali, UEFA general secretary Infantino, Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman and South African politician and businessman Sexwale but none responded for immediate comment.
In the United States, prosecutors have indicted 27 current or former football officials, including eight ex-FIFA Executive Committee members and the current heads of both the North and South American federations, over allegations they ran bribery schemes connected to the sale of TV rights for football competitions.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)