MEPs demand Fifa reform after candidates' snub

MEPs have once again demanded reform of football's governing body, after Fifa presidential candidates refused to attend debate.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

27 Jan 2016

A debate between MEPs and Fifa presidential candidates scheduled to take place today (Wednesday) at the European Parliament was cancelled at the last minute, after all but one of the prospective candidates dropped out dropped out just days ago.

On Monday, Prince Ali bin Hussein informed MEPs and campaign group #NewFifaNow - co-organising the debate - that he would not be attending the event, due to concerns that it was against Fifa campaigning rules. He also noted that two other candidates had submitted formal complaints to the Fifa electoral committee, asserting that the proposed debate was an example of political interference.

Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella, co-Chair of Parliament's sports intergroup, refuted the accusation, saying; "It's ridiculous to claim that an informal debate taking place in the European Parliament - which has no executive power over sport - constitutes political interference in the world of football."

In lieu of the debate, a press conference was organised with Jerôme Champagne, the sole candidate who accepted Parliament's invitation and members of the sports intergroup.

Kicking off the session, Emma McClarkin, a Vice-Chair of the intergroup and a leader of the #NewFifaNow movement, observed that; "Football is more than just a sport. We have to remind ourselves and the candidates to be mindful of this. Fifa is custodian of the game."

"We need root and branch reform of Fifa and we also need to make it more representative of the game itself, so that it reflects the increase of women in the game. We need more women in the organisation, but there are no women candidates."

Her colleague, Ivo Belet, also a leading figure in #NewFifaNow, commented that, "the fact that candidates cancelled their participation is a bad signal, and proves that the old Fifa is alive and kicking."

He added; "We explicitly request European sports Commissioner Tibor Navracsics to increase pressure on football governing bodies to introduce ethical and democratic standards. If self-regulation cannot deliver, the Commission should step up its involvement with regards to issues such as transfer fees."

Santiago Fisas, co-Chair of the sports intergroup, called for, "transparency. We believe in the independence of sport, but on the condition of good governance. Without good governance, it is not possible to have the independence of sport." He also noted that, "a large majority of Fifa's board is in jail - is there anyone who is not under suspicion?"

Fisas suggested the football organisation should change its name, as it has, " been totally discredited. It should start anew, with people who are not connected to the old Fifa."

Unfortunately, presidential candidate Jerôme Champagne does not quite meet these criteria, having served as a Fifa executive for 11 years before being dismissed in 2010. He insisted he was proud to be present in Parliament and had long wanted a debate on the future of Fifa. However, he said that this was, "not about gaining votes, but about rebuilding links between governance and fans, and speaking openly."

"If there is no governance, more and more people will try to grab the game for political, economic and criminal activities."

He argued that; "In a world that is increasingly fractured according to passport, skin colour or religion, we need football more and more. Every four years, we have one moment of world communion - the World Cup."

Champagne added; "Football has a transformative power for society; look at the workers in Qatar", seemingly unaware that many have already died during the construction of stadiums for the controversial 2022 World Cup.

MEPs have issued their own demands for Fifa reform, including full transparency of the attribution of World Cups and of the organisation's financial flows.

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