PtG Article 21.01.2014

Champagne runs for FIFA presidency

And now there could be four: Jérôme Champagne has joined the election for the FIFA presidency, joining a field that is expected to include the incumbent Sepp Blatter, UEFA president Michel Platini and possibly the CONCACAF president, Jeffrey Webb.

Yesterday, Monday 20 January, in London, the former FIFA top man in international affairs declared his candidacy to replace Blatter. The declaration comes four years after Champagne mysteriously and abruptly left his position as FIFA deputy general and a little over two years after he re-emerged on the public scene with a keynote speech at the 2011 Play the Game in Cologne.

In London, Champagne said: “The first challenge facing football in the twenty first century is lack of prestige. We must try to protect the game. The FIFA we need for the future will be different. There are new demands in terms of transparency and governance. Football cannot be left to the invisible hand of the market.”

Despite being born in France and living in Zurich, Champagne opted to declare his candidacy in London in an acknowledgement of both England’s historic role in developing the game and the criticism that FIFA has undergone from the British media. Champagne chose to convene the meeting at Holborn in central London as the venue was near where the world’s first football association was formed in 1863.

Asking for ‘presidential debates’

Champagne insisted that there was a need for US-style presidential debates in the run up to the FIFA presidential election next May, but declined to disclose the names of the five countries whose backing that he needs to be put on the ballot, citing concerns that pressure would be applied to stop his nomination. That nomination must be officially made by January 28 2015. Champagne expects to name those countries supporting him before that in early 2015, but he did screen a video interview with Pele, who came out in support of the Frenchman.

Champagne, who missed the last Play the Game in Aarhus due to a minor operation, is funding his own campaign and intends to canvass for votes unassisted. His speech was not so different from the one given in Cologne and contained few surprises to readers of the document subsequently circulated by Champagne on how to reform world football’s governing body.

“All candidates should appear before the six confederations and the FIFA congress,” added Champagne, who again insisted that the ExCo must be reformed as it was not representative of the president. He said: “The confederations are doing a great job, but they are not members of FIFA. Like the Premier League, they are an organiser of competitions.”

Champagne also said that the world body needed a horizontal governing structure with representatives of the players and clubs joining the ExCo and that more must be done to develop the game in football’s ‘frontier states’ of China, India, Indonesia and the United States.

He also discussed the growing financial inequalities. Champagne cited the fact that the side that finishes bottom of this season’s English Premier League will earn more than the French champions or the third placed team in Spain, and nations such as the Netherlands are no longer able to produce clubs that can compete in the Champions League. “Now there are even more certainties in the results,” added Champagne. “The state of affairs is being decided off the field rather than on it.”

Pushed out of FIFA

Although Champagne always refused to discuss his exit from FIFA, he admitted yesterday to being “pushed out” of the world body but he was not goaded into declaring himself as opposed to Blatter despite several attempts by British media to extract this reaction from the French former diplomat. He was also nonplussed when one member of the British media asked if Pelé had been paid for the video backing.

Blatter will decide in June if he will definitely run for the presidency. Champagne admitted that were FIFA’s president, who is 78, to run again then this might prove an insurmountable challenge but he did not “fear” Blatter and was confident that he could beat Platini or any other challengers for the presidency.

Champagne’s declaration has officially started the battle for the FIFA presidency. As an independent, he may struggle to find the support of a regional bloc but the extroverted Frenchman, who has promised to declare his salary if he wins, is one of the few senior FIFA figures to emerge untainted by the many scandals that have hit the governing body.

Whatever the outcome of the ballot next May, the election will certainly be both more entertaining and more transparent had Champagne chosen not to run.