Jerome Champagne Exclusive: FIFA Presidential Candidate on How to Save Football

Samindra KuntiSpecial to Bleacher ReportOctober 15, 2014

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Jerome Champagne announced his candidacy to stand for FIFA president in September. The Frenchman will run against Sepp Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term in office and stands as arguably the game's most controversial figure. The election will take place next May.

In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, Champagne—a former diplomat who worked for FIFA between 1999 and 2010—talks about his vision for football and the campaign message he hopes will put him in football's most powerful job.

Bleacher Report: Can you give us a latest update on your campaign?

Jerome Champagne: I am at full speed, speaking with a lot of people inside the football pyramid, from the football associations to the leagues, clubs and players' unions. I am preparing the next phases. I started the campaign on January 20, 2014. It takes time, and it takes a lot of energy. I am trying to express my ideas as much as I can.

B/R: How did the world receive your candidacy when you announced it in September?

JC: I am very happy to see that I have come across as someone who knows the game—as a citizen of the world who is proposing a concrete but also feasible solution to improve not only the governance of FIFA, but to fight the biggest challenge we face today, the growing sporting imbalance that exists inside football coming from the economic polarization.

Seven-and-a-half months remain until the election on May 29. It is a long election—a bit like the U.S. presidential election, where you have primaries, but it is exciting.

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If someone is not happy about a situation in his municipality, city or country, there are two solutions. The first one is to lock yourself up at home. The second one is to get involved, get engaged and roll up your sleeves. That is what I have decided to do.

B/R: What are the economic inequalities you see in our game today?

JC: Firstly, I want to say that globalisation has been positive for the game. Football is the number one sport in the world. You can see the popular success of the World Cup in Brazil. Even if you take the USA, where other sports have a bigger impact, the broadcasts of Belgium vs. USA and USA vs. Portugal during the World Cup attracted twice the TV audience of the tie-breaking game of the NBA season. You realize what that means!

This globalisation has also been very good because it has created more wealth, and that has enabled FIFA to redistribute money. When I joined FIFA in 1999, more than 100 of the about 200 national associations did not have technical centres, headquarters or real football fields. I do believe that FIFA's role is to redistribute the money of football in a solidary way.

This globalisation—and you can see that football is not different from the rest of our planet—is coming with inequality. Look at what the Pope is saying, look at what Mr. Obama is saying about the fact that the American dream is broken by the economic polarisation of the American society, look at Thomas Piketty, the French economist who has a bestseller in the USA, saying that the American society is becoming too unequal. This inequality in the game is no different.

B/R: What kind of inequalities precisely?

JC: There are three kinds of inequalities in football: between continents, inside continents and inside the same countries.

Firstly, between continents. There is more money today in South America and Africa than 20 years ago. That is clear, and that is good, but the gap with Europe has increased in spite of having organized the first World Cup in South Africa, in spite of having invested so much money for development, in spite of the fact that CAF has improved its competitions.

Africa remains in a situation of producing raw materials, but the valorisation is taken by someone else. If you buy one kilo of coffee in Ethiopia, the producer gets $1. If you buy the same coffee in Europe, it is worth $12 or $13. That means Africa is losing $12. It's the same in football. European football is, at club level, definitely the best in the world, but take out the African and South American players [and it is no longer].

Club football needs the help of others, but the consequence is that the gap has increased between western Europe and the rest of the world. The African leagues have been emptied. The best players are leaving early and often. Thirty years ago, the derby matches between the clubs of Yaounde and Douala in Cameroon would fill up the stadiums. It was passionate and crazy. Now, it is more difficult; the best Cameroonians are gone.

Secondly, inside the continents. Inside Europe. Europe was divided by the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, but that never blocked Europe from playing together and never blocked the clubs and players from eastern Europe to win.

The Real Madrid of Spain's Franco was playing against the Partizan Belgrade of Yugoslavia's Tito even though they had no diplomatic relation. In 1989, Steaua Bucharest won the European Champion Club Cup. In 1991, Red Star Belgrade.

Take the UEFA Cup: The Hungarian club Videoton reached the final in 1984/85, but they eliminated PSG in the round of 16, Manchester United in the quarter-finals and met Real Madrid home and away in the final. Do you think that would be possible today?

Think about Ajax, think about Malmo. That is finished. The gap has increased in Europe. Basically, the political Iron Curtain that divided Europe but not football has been replaced by a financial Iron Curtain that isolates 15 clubs from the rest of European football, and that creates total distortion. There is so much money in the English league that the club that will finish last this season will make twice the amount of TV money than the French champions and alone will make more money than the 16 professional clubs in Belgium.

Finally, the last level of inequality is inside a country. It is always the same clubs winning. For example, in Austria, Red Bull Salzburg spent 14 million this summer on transfers, more than the nine other clubs in the league.

It is a central issue in the years to come. We have to make a very important decision in 2015: Either football will become like basketball—I love basketball, I spent five years living in the USA, but there is only one club competition that matters: the NBA.

In basketball, national team competitions are not that important. The International Basketball Federation doesn't have a strong regulatory authority over the NBA. For this elitism and polarization, you don't need a strong FIFA. But to keep football universal, you need to correct these sporting imbalances and change the policies for the years to come. FIFA needs to be more democratic, more proactive and more respected.

Sepp Blatter is seeking a fifth term as FIFA president
Sepp Blatter is seeking a fifth term as FIFA presidentBuda Mendes/Getty Images

B/R: Isn't growing inequality a reflection of what is happening in society today?

JC: I agree that the inequalities I have described are not so different from the rest of society, but there is a major difference: Football has a world governance. The U.N. system is based on the sovereignty of the states, and it only has a limited authority on the governments and the states. The difference in FIFA is that all the 209 football associations are members of FIFA, and FIFA has the regulatory and governing power over this football.

FIFA has practiced in the past years—and I spent 11 years at FIFA, of which I am proud—a role of Robin Hood, redistributing the money of the World Cup in order to develop football. That model does not exist in the world. Take the problems of drought and water—if there would be a "FIFA Water," it would take a percentage of what water distributing companies make and drill wells and build dams. The problem would be solved.

B/R: Your idea is of redistribution may be philanthropic and may be justified, but how will you implement it?

JC: It is not a matter of philanthropy; it is matter of justice. It is about the real values of football. Football is the most important non-important human activity. This activity has chosen a black man, Pele, as its king. Football, by definition, is the most democratic sport because it is the cheapest one. You can play around the world, tying some bags together. It is about preserving the universality.

My idea may create opposition, but any idea of redistribution creates that. In the past years, even the biggest and the wealthiest clubs are thinking that more competition is needed.

A month ago, Barcelona's president, Mr. Bartomeu, said that even Barcelona need a more competitive Spanish league. The CEO of the Bundesliga, Mr. Seifert, is basically saying UEFA should redistribute the money of the Champions League differently because it creates too much distortion between Bayern Munich and the remaining 17 clubs.

Italy's coach, Antonio Conte, the president of the Polish FA, Mr. Boniek, the president of the FA, Greg Dyke—they are all saying that globalization is good but distorts because there are not enough local players in these leagues. I am not the only one. It is not about romanticism; the globalisation of football has to continue, but only if the benefits are better shared and distributed—to make sure football continues to grow.

Your question is, how to do you it? FIFA has the governing authority to do it. We can redistribute more, but we can also discuss it with those who make a lot of money. I love the English league. It makes $40 million a year out of the Indian TV market but reinvests nothing for the development of Indian football. Also, the French and the German league need to come forth and UEFA, which makes money outside of Europe without reinvesting.

The wealthiest clubs in Europe do not train players anymore. They just sign proven international players, or even worse, they take the best young players around the world and keep them in their academy in order to make sure that they benefit the clubs.

The obligation of training local players needs to be reinforced. Training has been replaced by the policy of the chequebook. It is going to be complicated [to redistribute], but FIFA has the authority to do it and has the moral obligation. In life, in a relationship, in a company, if you don't discuss and recognise the centrality of a problem, there is no chance to solve it. At the heart of my policy is the correction of this inequality.

B/R: Is UEFA not doing enough against this discrepancy between the "have" and the "have-nots"?

European football has been changed by three things. First, the Bosman case, two, the format of the Champions League, which gives an undue advantage to the wealthiest ones, and three, the system of distribution of money, which gives an advantage to the biggest countries.

In the 2012/13 season, the final was Bayern Munich against Borussia Dortmund. They got respectively 53 and 55 million, but that season, the club that made the highest amount of money was Juventus with 65 million, 10 million more than the winners. 

Scene before the 2013 Champions League final
Scene before the 2013 Champions League finalMartin Rose/Getty Images

They received more money because of the market pool. The system—Bosman, format and distribution—constitutes these elements, reinforcing the mechanism to create inequality. I am not the only one to say this. The media make the same analysis. It is always the same countries and the same clubs winning.

The Champions League only really becomes competitive when the quarter-finals begin. Why? Because it is where the clubs more or less have the same budget and the same kind of players. It is a problem, and it is FIFA's role to disturb that in a friendly, constructive way with all the stakeholders.


B/R: You worked 11 years at FIFA as deputy secretary-general and as personal advisor of Mr. Blatter. In his book, Foul: The Secret World of FIFA, Andrew Jennings writes that you devised a political strategy for Mr. Blatter of "Divide et Impera" to keep both Germany and South Africa as friends when FIFA had to award the 2006 World Cup, effectively taking the World Cup away from South Africa. True or not?

JC: I am not here to comment on what Mr. Blatter has done. For 11 years, I worked by his side, and I am proud of that because I felt comfortable with the vision of making football stronger and redistributing money.

In 2000, Germany obtained the World Cup in controversial circumstances by one vote from South Africa. 2006 was a great World Cup in Germany, but frankly, as a European, I was happy to help and try and bring the World Cup to Africa.

I think Europe could have said—let's give the World Cup to South Africa in 2006, and then we will organize 2010 in Europe. No, Europe was egoistic. In 2004, there was this marvelous moment when Mandela held the trophy in his arms. It was about justice for Africa. It was also justice for the role football has played in fighting Apartheid.

People tend to forget that the ANC had received the Nobel Peace Prize before Mr. Mandela—Albert Lutuli in 1960. You also remember the role Mahatma Gandhi played when in 1908, he created some football teams called the "Passive Resisters" to oppose the first Anglo-Boer War. You also have to remember the Makana FA in the infamous Robben Island prison.

In 1969, Dikgang Moseneke, the deputy chief justice in South Africa, was elected as the president of the Makana FA. President Jacob Zuma was a referee and a player on this league. Bringing the World Cup to South Africa was a tribute to Mr. Mandela and to football. It was a fight, and I want to say that Morocco had a great bid. It was the first African country to qualify for the World Cup in 1970. They will have a strong bid to host the second African World Cup when it will be Africa's turn again. Egoism is a problem, but with the political will, you can beat that.

B/R: How is your relationship with Mr. Blatter?

JC: It's something between Mr. Blatter and me. So I won't comment on that.

B/R: You tend to say that Mr. Blatter is not corrupt, that FIFA is not corrupt. The perception is very different, though, and as you say, "perception is reality."

JC: Absolutely, yes. I can give you examples. Six months ago, the Daily Telegraph (£) revealed that Mohamed Bin Hamman, the former Qatari president of the Asian Confederation, gave $2 million to the family of the former Trinidadian president of CONCACAF, Jack Warner. All around the world, it was typed and written, "corruption in FIFA," but most of the people didn't know that the confederations are not members of FIFA.

The confederations play a big role, don't get me wrong, but they are to FIFA what the English Premier League is to the English FA. FIFA is blamed for everything in football.

Another example: In the UK, in the summer, Mr. Gary Lineker, a great player, said that Mr. Blatter is a dictator. Let's take a look at the situation. In a democracy, people elect a president or prime minister. That person has a government to implement the program he has been elected for. That is the principle of democracy.

In FIFA, that is not the case. When the FIFA president is elected, and forget the name of Mr. Blatter for a moment, the government is already elected by the confederations, which are the member associations in a different political cycle and in a different program. The FIFA president has another government that is elected within in order to install the program he has been elected for.

The statement by Mr. Lineker is wrong.

Third example: In Spain, when a player comes back from an international match to his club and he is injured, it is written in Spain that the FIFA virus has struck again, but it is not FIFA that dictates the format of the qualification or competition. So FIFA is blamed for everything.

But as I said, perception is reality, and I want to correct that. I have no problem in explaining what is wrong, but also in what is unfair. I am not here to defend anyone, I just want to be a reasonable, realistic and credible candidate. That is why I won't b------t anyone—that's why I told the British media that Lineker was wrong when he said Blatter is a dictator.

It shows he doesn't know how FIFA functions. At the same time, I recognize the perception is terrible. I am convinced that FIFA doesn't deserve the blame for everything, and I have made some proposals on how I plan to reconcile FIFA and the public opinion. I will make my salary public. We know the salary of Mr. Obama and the salary of the King of Norway, so why not of the FIFA president? FIFA needs to be more transparent, more responsible, and we need to increase the proximity and recreate that link with the fans.

B/R: But the World Cup, FIFA's flagship event, is awarded by the executive committee, not a very democratic body?

JC: My proposal is to guarantee the majority of the seats in the FIFA Executive Committee to presidents of the national football associations because firstly, they have the real honors of FIFA, as FIFA is a federation of FAs and secondly, because it is only at national level where you can balance amateur and professional interests.

Why do we need a more democratic FIFA? Because the confederations, who are not members of FIFA, are controlling the government. Second answer why we need to make FIFA more democratic? Europe has 53 football associations and has eight seats in the FIFA Executive Committee. Africa has 54 football associations but has only four seats. It is not acceptable.

FIFA is going through the same debate. In the IMF, Belgium has more voting rights than China. Why? The calculation was made on the GNP of 30, 40 years ago. FIFA has to rebalance between the continents, and it is part of my proposal to give more seats to the underrepresented continents. Last but not least in my proposal, I consider that football in the 21st century cannot be run without the stakeholders on board—players, clubs and league. That is why I want them seated at the table of the FIFA Executive Committee as well.

B/R: Giving more seats to countries of the various continents and possibly taking slots from Europe away in the World Cup—that sounds like a campaign strategy from someone who needs the votes from the smaller nations?

JC: The issue of slots at the World Cup is always permanent. In 1966, the African Football Associations boycotted the World Cup in England because Africa was not given a direct entry. What is interesting is to look at what the arguments were in 1964 and 1965 to deny Africa the entry: They have to prove themselves, Europe is better, blah blah blah.

In Brazil, Europe for the first time won the World Cup for a third time consecutively. That is undeniable, but the majority of the European teams, seven out of 13, were eliminated in the group phase. South America proved its strength. North and Central America surprised everyone with the USA and Costa Rica.

For the first time in history, two African teams qualified for the second round. Ivory Coast missed qualification by one goal and a few minutes. African football is progressing. Ghana and Algeria created problems for the world champions: Germany vs. Ghana finished 2-2 and Germany vs. Algeria 2-1 in extra time.

Once again, Africa has proven that it can succeed. All that will, in my view, create the necessary debate on the distribution of the slots—it’s like a human body, it changes all the time. The world is changing. Africa is having a strong economic growth. The continent is changing, a new generation of leaders is arriving, and so are new presidents of the associations. It is not about politics; it is about justice. You have the right to say it is about appealing to voters, but it’s about justice, because the world is changing permanently.

B/R: With Russia and Qatar, FIFA has definitely spread the game and is taking it to new places.

JC: Taking the game everywhere. I refer to Panama in 1985 was a ‘BBB’ country—basketball, baseball and boxing. They nearly qualified for the World Cup. In Asia you see new powers coming —Oman, Uzbekistan, Jordan. Jordan played in the playoffs.

Africa, I first visited Cape Verde, when they had nothing except a small building where all the sports federations had their offices, and FIFA invested heavily: training centre, redoing the stadium in Praia [the capital]. Cape Verde qualified for the first time for the African Cup of Nations and reached the quarterfinals. That is what needs to be done.

DOHA, QATAR - OCTOBER 24:  Arab men sit at a shoemaker's stall with a replica of the FIFA World Cup trophy in the Souq Waqif traditional market on October 24, 2011 in Doha, Qatar. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup football competition and is slated
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Now, you say Russia and Qatar. There is a difference: Russia has a long tradition in football. They became a member in 1912. Soviet and Russian football have contributed a lot to football. Think about the Lobanovskyi tactic, the first wingers like [Oleg] Blokhin or the mastermind technique of Georgian players at Dinamo Tbilisi. That is not going to new territories, and if you take the World Cup back to Europe, it was logical that the World Cup would go to the eastern part of the continent, so I think it was absolutely necessary and just to go to Russia.

B/R: But there are three fundamental questions about the World Cup in Qatar…

JC: Firstly, the unacceptable situation of the Indian and Nepalese workers. That is not acceptable. Secondly, a change of date. We voted for a World Cup in June and July in spite of the evaluation report saying that you cannot play in Qatar. Now, there is talk about switching to winter, but it is going to create chaos all around the world.

Last, but not least, the allegations of the vote, the conditions of the voting on December 2, 2010. There are three things: allegations of vote buying, allegations of conniving between the bidders for 2018 and the bidders for 2022, which was prohibited by FIFA, and also political influence in France and Germany and elsewhere.

I want to say one thing very clearly. The democratic presumption of innocence—that we are all innocent until proven guilty—should benefit the Qatari (bid). At the same time we need to know [what happened] because of the need to protect the sanctity of the World Cup; it is the biggest sports event in the world.

I advocate, and I have been saying for six months: We need to have the report of Michael Garcia published. It is very important, not only for the World Cup, but also for the reconstruction and rebuilding of FIFA’s image. I have seen what Mr. Blatter has said and there is a movement that wants to report to be known. I am part of this movement. I have said constantly that we need to know it.

B/R: Playing in 50 degrees, that is nonsensical for everyone involved?

JC: I lived in the region. I lived in Oman and the weather and the conditions are more or less the same as in Qatar, not only the heat but also the humidity, which is absolutely terrible. That is why I am surprised that the vote took place in favor of Qatar, because the evaluation report—its medical chapter—stated that we cannot play. That’s why the result was surprising.

B/R: What can be done about the migrant workers, who live and work in very bad conditions?

JC: The World Cup unfortunately, especially when stadiums are built, provokes death and injuries among workers. In the case of Brazil, seven workers were killed and that is tragedy. That can happen in any building site and you have to work on that.

In Qatar, it is a completely different system. It is a systemic system based on or taking its roots in poverty. In Nepal, poor people are part of working agencies and take huge steps to get through the bureaucracy and pay a ticket to Qatar. They arrive in Qatar and the conditions are horrible. That is why we cannot rejoice going to a World Cup, knowing that it is a system of oppression.

B/R: What are some of your campaign ideas for on-the-field innovation?

JC: Regarding refereeing, I have made some concrete proposals. I propose that only captains have the right to speak to the referee. In rugby it exists. If there is a dispute, the free-kick is moved by 10 yards and there is no incident in rugby. Frankly, how can you teach boys to respect the referee if they see grown men of 25, 26, arguing with the referee on a football field. That is my philosophy.

I have proposed sin bins, what I call the orange card as a form of irony. Sometimes referees are accused of being biased in a match. For example, a player gets booked in the first half, scores a goal in the 50th minute, removes his jersey [to celebrate], gets a second yellow and he is out. A team now has to play 40 minutes with 10 players. You can give the player an orange card for three or five minutes and the referee should have more opportunities to do this. It doesn’t prevent him from giving a red card immediately, but it creates a temporary solution.

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 04: Players of Gremio argue with the referee during the match Gremio v Sao Paulo as part of Brasileirao Series A 2014, at Arena do Gremio  on October 04, 2014 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images)
Lucas Uebel/Getty Images

The third proposal is that the triple punishment needs to be cancelled—when a player is through on goal and his fouled by the last defender, it is a red card, a penalty and a match suspension.

Fourth, I am in favor of a reasonable introduction of video, once again to help the referee. More and more stadiums in the world are now equipped with internet connection. A goal is scored, it is cancelled for offside and there is a dispute.

There is a brawl for 30 seconds, but [the fans in] the stadium will take the smartphone and see in five or six seconds on a stream the computer-generated offside line, saying that it is right or wrong, but the only person who actually needs it, the referee, doesn't have access to it. In other sports, the central referee can ask for help. I think we can do it, but only when the ball is stopped, because you can’t break the rhythm of the game.

B/R: Won’t it open the floodgates to the use of more technology?

The opening goal scored by Edin Dzeko of Manchester City, the first in the Premier League to be awarded using goal line technology is displayed on the scoreboard during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Cardiff City at the Etih
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

JC: No, I don’t agree that it will be used for every foul. It has to be clearly defined. Only when the ball is stopped. Technology is everywhere now in our lives: the way of dating, the way of working. How can we think that football will remain on the outside? That is impossible. Imagine a goal is scored in the final of the World Cup, the goal is ruled out for offside, but the offside is dubious. Everyone in the stadium will see on their smartphone that the goal was valid, but the only one who needs to see it won’t. This creates an absurd situation and this is impossible to sustain.

B/R: Mr. Blatter has been FIFA president since 1998. What are your chances of winning come May 29?

I decided to run for election, because I believe I have a chance. If not, I would not submit my family and I through what I am going through.

You can win or lose an election; that is part of the democratic process. If you are not a candidate, you don’t have a chance to win.

I recognize the task of running against an incumbent, but there is a need for change. Mr. Blatter has been the president for 16 years, and before [that], he was the general-secretary. He had a good record and he did a lot with Mr. Havelange. I am proud of the fact that I spent 11 years with him, but we are facing new challenges.

I am in favor of a general show for change—age is not the issue—we need new ideas, new energy and to an extent fresh air to reconcile with the citizen of football. I am not running against anyone. It is an election about vision and program. So far, I am the only one who has put his cards on the table and that is why I am advocating for debate, because it can contribute to the restoration of FIFA’s image.

To read more about Jerome Champagne's candidacy for FIFA president, visit his official website here.