Thursday 17 January 2019

New FIFA candidate hoping for his own Champagne victory

FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne wants to tackle the many problems that lie behind football's glittering facade and which, until now, have been rarely discussed by football's governing body.

The Frenchman, who confirmed that he will stand against Sepp Blatter in next year's presidential election, has repeatedly spoken of football's growing inequality.

He has warned that football is in danger of following basketball, which he says has become dominated by an NBA isolated from the rest of the sport.

He also believes that European football is divided by a "financial iron curtain" which has made the gap between clubs in the West and East greater than it was during the Cold War.

Instead of the interminable controversy over the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Champagne hopes the debate for the FIFA presidency can move towards how to stop a handful of clubs and leagues gobbling up the lion's share of the world's talent.

"We tend to misrepresent the game by thinking the game is about the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo," he said in an interview last year.

"In reality, it is about players whose salaries are not paid and clubs who are on the verge of bankruptcy.

"The majority of football is today facing this crisis while the wealthy are becoming wealthier.

"The reality is that for two per cent of privileged clubs or competitions, you have 98 per cent in the opposite situation."

FIFA's deputy secretary general between 2002 and 2005, Champagne worked on special projects between 2005 and 2007 and was Director of International Relations from 2007 until he left the ruling body in 2010 after political infighting.

A former diplomat, since 2010 Champagne has worked as an independent international football consultant focusing on resolving issues in Kosovo, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus.

When he announced his intention to stand, Champagne stunned reporters by saying he did not think he could beat Blatter, who is bidding for a fifth term.

But he at least hopes that he can spark debate about where the game is heading and, in confirming his candidacy, called for public debates in various continents between all the candidates.

"This debate is particularly indispensable for football," he said.

Among other things, Champagne is in favour of orange cards and sin bins, greater use of technology, and more respect for referees who, he argues, should only be approached by team captains during matches.

Champagne has also called for a change in the electoral process, saying that FIFA's 209 member associations, via Congress, should elect both the FIFA president and executive committee.

He also suggested that the national associations, rather than continental confederations, should hold most of the seats on the executive committee and that players, leagues and clubs should also be represented.

"We have to have it so that one day we can hear the voice of a small club in Romania or Bolivia and not just the voices of the big ones," he said. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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