Champagne wants to bring sparkle back to FIFA
LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (JANUARY 19, 2014) (REUTERS) - As results prove every week, nothing can be taken for granted in soccer and despite long odds, FIFA could next year have its first French president since Jules Rimet with Jerome Champagne planning to succeed Sepp Blatter.
"We have to make FIFA more democratic," he told Reuters.
"We need a system where the government of FIFA and the executive committee, and I know from inside, needs to be reformed to better reflect the world, to incorporate the stakeholders, to re-balance between the continents.
"The third reform is that we need to reconcile FIFA with the people of football. Even though I said that publicly many times even so some of the allegations or criticisms levelled against FIFA I found them absolutely unfair sometimes.
"The world is changing so FIFA has to change."
Champagne has an encyclopedic knowledge of football history but he is more concerned right now with the game's future and more especially FIFA's future as the 21st century advances.
"We have done incredible things. Of course we make mistakes, and I make mistakes, but it's part of life, if you work a lot you make more mistakes, but we need to go further and I don't think it's an advantage or problem," said Champagne.
"The positive side is that I know it functions, I know what we can do with FIFA, I know what we should do also to reform it, I know what to avoid, I know where to sail between the reefs of problems here and there so I think it's either of them, it's neither an advantage nor a problem, I come openly to the people of football, to the 209 federations with what they know about me and my background and also my balance of achievements."
Once Blatter's trusted right-hand man and the campaign manager for the Swiss's successful 2002 election victory, Champagne announced his candidature for the most powerful job in the sport on Monday.
Blatter, who will be 78 in March and who has been at the helm of the world governing body since 1998, has yet to declare whether he will stand for a fifth term, though every indication is that he will.
UEFA head Michel Platini, 58, could also stand - meaning Champagne would be taking on men who he has had close ties with in the past.
For, as well as working with Blatter as FIFA's international advisor for much of his 11 years in Zurich, Champagne's introduction into the world of soccer politics came through his fellow Frenchman Platini.
"I have a lot of esteem for the two of them, for example Michel Paltini was an amazing player who made me cry so many times, I remember three goals against Yugoslavia in the stadium of St Etienne, my stadium. An amazing player, we worked together, you have to know that we started together the same day as Mr. Blatter's two advisors, he was the football advisor and I was I would say international advisor.
"As far as Mr. Blatter is concerned, I know the attacks against him, I know him personally, I think he's an honest man who is married to football, who is genuinely involved in football, he has done a lot of things, in particular development programs."
Champagne, who is married with three children, can best be described as a politically astute multi-lingual intellectual with a deep love of the game.
He was working for the French diplomatic corps in Los Angeles at the time of the 1994 World Cup in theUnited States when his career lurched towards his real passion of football.
Platini met Champagne while Platinii was in LA as part of his duties as joint-head of the organising committee for the 1998 finals in France and by 1997 Champagne had left the diplomatic corps and was involved in helping to organise those finals.
He remained at FIFA for 11 years until some Confederation presidents, led by the later-discreditedMohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar, organised a coup just before the 2010 World Cup in South Africaclaiming that Champagne had become far too powerful and was exceeding his powers.
But even though he has been out of FIFA for four years he has not spent that time bemoaning his fate.
Last week FIFA confirmed that it was allowing its members to play friendly matches against teams fromKosovo, which is not a member of either UEFA or FIFA - a hugely positive step forwards for soccer in that country.
Last year the FAs of Turkey and Greece, at loggerheads over soccer in the divided island of Cyprussince 1955, signed an agreement aimed at unification while Champagne also helped broker meetings between the bitterest of enemies from Palestine and Israel.
One of the tenets of his reforming campaign is that while FIFA is too big, powerful and established to change totally, it must adapt far better to the demands of the modern world.
He wants a more democratic body, with an enlarged executive committee taking in national associations, leagues, players' organisations and women.
He underlines the divisions in soccer: clubs becoming more powerful, being controlled by mega-rich individuals, competitions becoming unbalanced because of ever more wealth concentrated in the hands of the relative few and says a balance needs to be re-introduced to the game.
Champagne is against expanding the format of the World Cup to include more teams.
"I think expanding the format of the World Cup to 40 teams is not the right solution, it would mean that the World Cup would jump from 64 matches to 96 matches, 50 percent of matches more," he said.
"One more week and when you see the complexity and the cost it represents to organise a World Cup expanding it by a week with eight more teams, and also we need to think about the big clubs because the big clubs are very nice and they lend their players to play for their national teams because they realise it is also in their own interest. So we are going to add an additional burden to an international calendar which is already saturated, and on clubs which are already making a lot of effort to release their players for international teams."
Two years ago he published a 20,000-word document discussing how FIFA can best adapt to the 21st century, with the implementation of some far-reaching ideas and in this regard he is a direct descendant of Rimet, the visionary FIFA president from 1921-54 who, among other things, helped create the World Cup.
Champagne, if he should be elected, is unlikely to have that kind of impact on the world game.
But if brings some of the fizz and sparkle back to the governing body of the world's most popular sport, he would have done more than just live up to his name.