As long-time FIFA president Sepp Blatter continues to appeal his eight-year suspension from the organization, candidates are lining up to take his place atop soccer’s highest throne. So far, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Tokyo Sexwale, Gianni Infantino and Jerome Champagne have all met FIFA’s requirements to become President.

The easiest way for any of them to get a leg up would be a worldwide stage where they can talk about what they’ll do to change the shady FIFA culture under Blatter and why they’re the best candidate for the job. ESPN would like to give them all that opportunity.

The network confirmed Tuesday that it has invited all five FIFA presidential candidates to take part in a televised debate some time before the February 26 election. The network also released a statement:

“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.”

So far, only former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne has said he would like to participate. However, he doesn’t seem to have high hopes for the debate or for anything but business-as-usual in terms of how FIFA elects it’s next leader.

‘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.’

Prince Ali Bin Hussein’s office has confirmed receipt of the invitation but are “currently assessing his travel schedule.”

The idea actually isn’t new for ESPN. They tried to hold a debate for the 2015 FIFA elections but Sepp Blatter refused to participate, which would have made it an exercise in futility.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JULY 20: Comedian Simon Brodkin (not pictured) throws cash at FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter during a press conference at the Extraordinary FIFA Executive Committee Meeting at the FIFA headquarters on July 20, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – JULY 20: Comedian Simon Brodkin (not pictured) throws cash at FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter during a press conference at the Extraordinary FIFA Executive Committee Meeting at the FIFA headquarters on July 20, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

If the debate doesn’t happen here, there will still be another one regardless. At least three of the five candidates (Champagne, Prince Ali and Tokyo Sexwale) will take part in a debate organized by the reform group New FIFA Now on January 27. Candidate Gianni Infantino is also expected to attend.

It would be a coup if ESPN were able to pull off the debate on their own network. Not only would that give them “ownership” of the discussion in the U.S. but also strengthen their appeal to soccer fans worldwide, giving a major voice to those who intend to take FIFA in a much better direction than the one Blatter and his cronies have steered it.

However, just because Blatter is gone, that doesn’t mean the culture he created doesn’t still exist. As Champagne alluded to, the real debate may be whether or not a FIFA candidate debate actually matters at all.

[ESPN FC]

About Sean Keeley

A graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse related things for SB Nation, Neighborhoods.com, Curbed Seattle and many other outlets. He currently lives in Chicago.

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