FIFA presidential hopeful Luis Figo put pressure on current president Sepp Blatter on Thursday by adding his voice to calls for a public pre-election debate between the four candidates.

Prince Ali bin Al Hussein introduced the idea when he launched his campaign for the presidency earlier this month and when asked if he would be prepared to take part in a debate, Figo told AFP: “No problem!”

In an interview overlooking the pitch at Wembley Stadium after the official launch of his bid, the 42-year-old former Portugal winger added: “I believe in my manifesto and I believe in my ideas.

“I believe that these ideas will change the structure and the organisation of FIFA and I believe that you have to take care of the future of football and the associations that belong to FIFA.”

Formerly a dashing winger with clubs including Barcelona and Real Madrid, Figo will go up against Blatter, Ali and Dutch federation president Michael van Praag in the presidential election in Zurich on May 29.

He has pledged to restore the world governing body’s credibility after years of scandal and called for “a new style of leadership” that can “restore transparency, cooperation and solidarity”.

The most eye-catching initiative in his sleek, 20-page manifesto is a proposal to expand the World Cup from its current 32-team format to a super-sized sporting extravaganza featuring 40 or even 48 national sides.

Last year’s World Cup in Brazil was seen as one of the most successful tournaments in the competition’s 84-year history, but Figo said it was important to keep growing it for both financial and political reasons.

When it was put to him that the proposals could ruin the tournament, he replied: “I don’t think so.

“I just want to open a debate because it’s always the hot point that all the confederations want more spots and more places in the World Cup.

“With that option, we will increase substantially the tournament’s financial income, which could be invested again in grassroots football, and allow other confederations outside Europe to have more places in the World Cup.”


– ‘Very hard sanctions’ –


Should Figo succeed in toppling 78-year-old Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term in office, one of his first duties would be to enforce a ban on third-party ownership of players that is due to come into force in May.

Critics such as UEFA president Michel Platini believe that the practice, which allows investors to buy a percentage share of a player’s playing rights, can lead to corruption.

However, the Spanish and Portuguese leagues have filed a legal challenge with the European Union’s competition commission over the ban, claiming it contravenes competition regulations, and Figo says FIFA will have to respect the outcome of those proceedings.

“In this case, FIFA took a decision that comes in in May and the Portuguese and Spanish are making some actions in the court,” said the 2000 Ballon d’Or-winner and 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year.

“Right now, I think the best thing is wait for the decision and see how it’s implemented and see the reaction of the court to decide what is better.”

Figo also called for the Chelsea fans who on Tuesday were filmed pushing a black man off a Paris metro train and chanting racist songs to be punished as severely as possible.

“I think Jeffrey Webb (head of FIFA’s anti-racism taskforce) is doing a fantastic job in FIFA regarding racism, but this is a problem of our society,” he said.

“We have to do something, starting with the grassroots, with education, with campaigns, and we have to do very hard sanctions when things like we have seen in Paris happen.

“In that example in Paris, if you have the chance to recognise (identify) the fans that made that episode, I think they have to be totally and always out of any kind of event in sport.” – Agence France-Presse

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