Soccer-Champagne set for FIFA presidency bid

Reuters

* Frenchman Champagne to hold news conference on Monday

* Blatter's former assistant ready to bid for top job

* Blatter yet to confirm if he will stand again (Adds reaction, background)

By Mike Collett

LONDON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter's former right-hand man Jerome Champagne is set to launch a bid to succeed his ex-boss as the most powerful man in world soccer after inviting the world's media to a news conference in London on Monday.

Although the 55-year-old Frenchman refused to confirm that the event was to announce his bid, sources in Switzerland, where FIFA is based, left little doubt.

Blatter, 78 in March, has hinted he might stand again in next year's elections, while UEFA president Michel Platini has also been widely tipped to challenge, though the Frenchman has repeatedly refused to declare his position.

Champagne, FIFA's deputy Secretary General from 2002 until 2005, has been working as an international soccer consultant in troubled regions such as Kosovo, Palestine and Israel and Cyprus since leaving the organisation in 2010.

He sent an email to the world's media on Friday inviting them to a news conference, but would not elaborate on his plans.

"I cannot stop the speculation because there has been speculation about me for the last two years since I published my document regarding the future of FIFA and the globalisation of the game," Champagne told Reuters.

"It is a free world and you cannot stop people having an opinion but I do not wish to say more until I speak in London on Monday."

A Swiss source told Reuters: "There has been much speculation that Jerome could stand for the presidency and it would come as no surprise to anyone if this is what he says in London.

"Everyone knows how important next year's election will be for the future of football and being part of the campaign would give him the chance of expressing his views."

A FIFA spokesman said the governing body had no comment to make on the issue.

In 2012 Champagne's 20,000-word "What FIFA for the 21st century?" document outlined some far-sighted views, while building on FIFA's traditional strengths. Central to his thinking are plans to expand the FIFA executive committee, bringing national FA's into the seat of governance and making FIFA more open and transparent.

ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL

In a previous interview with Reuters, Champagne said: "The election in 2015 is absolutely crucial for the future of the world game and will shape football for many years to come.

"We have to embrace new ideas and develop others like technology, we have to embrace the changes in the modern world, both in the way football is governed and how we redress the imbalances that have crept into the game.

"I may not have all the answers but at least I can open up the debate."

Blatter, who will be 78 in March, has been president since 1998 and was close to Champagne during his time at FIFA. Blatter has not yet confirmed whether he is standing for a fifth term of office when the elections are held in Zurich in 18 months' time.

However, he hinted this week in an interview with French newspaper L'Equipe that he did intend to stand and was not yet "too tired" to continue in one of the biggest jobs in world sport.

FIFA, comprising 209 member nations, more than the United Nations, organises the world's most popular sport but under Blatter's long presidency has suffered a series of crises focused around financial scandals and mismanagement.

Champagne was at FIFA during many of Blatter's woes but was forced out of the organisation after political infighting six months before the World Cup started in South Africa in 2010.

Blatter, who has won three election campaigns and also been acclaimed as president without any opposition once, is only the eighth president in the organisation's 110-year history.

He said he will announce his intentions before this year's FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil in June.

Platini has also been linked with a bid for the presidency but has not yet declared his position.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

View Comments