ESPN invites five FIFA presidential candidates to debate before election

ESPN has invited the FIFA presidential candidates to take part in a televised debate, the network confirmed on Tuesday.

Five candidates are bidding to replace Sepp Blatter as the leader of the world governing body, with an election set for Feb. 26.

Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Tokyo Sexwale, Gianni Infantino and Jerome Champagne have met FIFA's requirements for entry, and ESPN has welcomed them all to express their views to the public.

An ESPN statement said: "Our goal is to provide a forum for 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."

Champagne, a former FIFA deputy general secretary, told Sporting Intelligence that he would like to participate.

"I can tell you that ESPN proposed to the candidates a televised debate in London on Jan. 29 and I have already expressed my agreement," he said.

Plans for a debate before the 2015 presidential election in May fell through when Blatter declined to participate.

Each FIFA member nation has one vote in the presidential election, and Champagne added that he felt the presidency would not be decided based on the candidate's success in a debate.

"I feel that unfortunately -- as I have said already when I launched this campaign myself -- that it will be a succession of deals done behind closed doors of five-star hotels.''

Champagne, Prince Ali and Sexwale are scheduled to attend a meeting at the European Parliament two days earlier on Jan. 27.

Blatter's presidency ended on Dec. 21 when he was banned for eight years by FIFA's ethics committee.

The ban, imposed by FIFA's ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, came after a "disloyal payment'' of 2 million Swiss francs made to UEFA president Michel Platini in 2011, signed off by outgoing FIFA president Blatter.

Platini was also banned for eight years and both men have vowed to fight the sanctions.