On the Scene - Champagne Pops Cork on FIFA Presidential Bid

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Champagne at today's press conference (WFI)
(WFI) Jerome Champagne officially announced his intention to stand for FIFA president in 2015 but straightaway admitted that if Sepp Blatter seeks re-election, he cannot beat him.

The Frenchman launched his bid in London’s Grand Connaught Rooms in front of his campaign slogan ‘Hope for Football’ – though he himself is not hopeful of winning a battle with Blatter.

Champagne, who served FIFA for 11 years from 1999 to 2010, was resolute in saying that he believed he could win but when asked if he was as confident if Blatter were to run for re-election he said “No, I don’t think so.”

That would suggest he believes Blatter would not stand, as the Swiss has suggested before that his current term would be his last, though he has since retreated from that position. The 77-year-old has dropped heavy hints recently that he has no plans to retire.

Another possible candidate is UEFA president Michel Platini, while CONCACAF chief Jeffrey Webb has been talked of as a future FIFA president.

But Champagne is the first to lay out his vision for football’s world governing body – 18 months before the election is due to take place.

The staunch St Etienne supporter was a FIFA official before political infighting forced him out in 2010. Since then he has been working as a consultant to various national associations in and outside FIFA such as Palestine, Kosovo and North Cyprus and the Congolese club TP Mazembe.

But he felt the time was right for a change.

“There is a need for new impetus, fresh air, new vision and some momentum,” he said. “But at the same time we need to keep what has been done correctly for 40 years – the universalisation of the game, the development programme. We need FIFA but a stronger FIFA.”

One of the challenges Champagne outlined was a “loss of prestige not only for FIFA but for the credibility of structures and governing bodies. The arrival of a considerable sum of money has created a lot of problems. Sometimes having behaviours which look unacceptable for people.

“We have an image, sometimes negative, of the way we manage our money and the more recent controversy about the vote of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; and I concur more with president Blatter when he said it was an error.”

Champagne added that he wanted to prevent what
he called the “the NBA-ification of football”, referring to the franchise model of America’s basketball league and the separation between the club team and the national team’s calendar.

Other ideas included more use of video technology to help referees, an orange card for sin bins and enlarging the executive committee to include the presidents of the national associations, league leaders and even players.

But the question over whether he could actually stand was also the subject of debate, as FIFA statutes stipulate a candidate must have worked in football for at least two of the last five years. However Champagne was confident he was eligible; “Absolutely. I know by heart article 24 of FIFA statutes, I believe I have satisfied this criteria.”

Among his proposals included changes to the election process itself.

“In due time when we know the candidates we will have meetings and debates maybe on TV - we have a continental footprint, in front of not only the rest of federations but also to the fans because football belongs to them," he told reporters.

“I do hope this process will be fair and transparent.”

Whether he will face Blatter in the election remains to be seen, but he was hopeful of his support: “Of course. It would help. If you asked me if Michel Platini does not stand would I like his support – of course, it would help.”

But for now, Champagne will go on to spread his message through the international media and start meeting with national football associations across the world to listen to their grievances with the modern game.

He closed his presentation by saying “the imbalances of football today are our greatest challenge. They endanger the strengths and promise of our sport, its universal nature and the chance to give everyone a chance to play and win.”

First out of the blocks with a self-funded campaign and no PR, Champagne believes he has a chance to win.

By Christian Radnedge in London

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