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Soccer-Champagne wants reforms to halt elitist trend

Reuters

By Mike Collett

LONDON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Reuters has interviewed Jerome Champagne who has announced his intention to stand as FIFA president in next year's election.

The 55-year-old Frenchman, who worked at FIFA for 11 years between 1999 and 2010, is a former member of the French diplomatic corps and since leaving FIFA has worked as a consultant for a number of national football associations around the world.

Reuters: Why have you decided to stand?

JC: Football today is enjoying huge success thanks to the globalisation of the game. It unites, for example, a Bolivian and a Vietnamese who have never met but have something in common. It's not music, it's not language -- it's football.

It has a huge TV imprint - five times the size of the Olympic Games. However, it is facing strong challenges. First, the growing imbalances in the game; second, privatisation of the game; and third, this globalisation has not been properly handled, running out of control sometimes, taking football away from its values.

I believe we need to have a debate on what sort of FIFA we want for the 21st century. The election in 2015 is a defining moment and will impact on what football will be like in 2025, 2030. We want a strong FIFA for the world, not the kind of evolution they had in basketball where you have one fantastic competition, the NBA, but completely isolated from the rest of the basketball world. We must keep football universal.

We need a more democratic, transparent FIFA, in line with modern trends, and by being a candidate I believe we can have a deeper debate on these issues -- let the FAs and football people decide as democratically as possible.

Reuters: You worked closely with current FIFA president Sepp Blatter for many years but are now running against him. Has that been a difficult decision for you ?

JC: First of all, I am the only declared candidate. So right now I am not running against anyone. I am running with my ideas and proposals. I also have the utmost respect for Mr Blatter.

I worked by his side for many years and he has done many good things for FIFA, making it stronger and more proactive. He had the courage to take the World Cup to Africa. I agree with a lot of what Mr Blatter has done. But now we should modernise for the requirements of today's world.

Reuters: You have been outside FIFA for four years and are not part of any FA. What qualifies you to stand as president ?

JC: I have been working as an advisor to some football associations like Palestine, Kosovo, the Turkish Cypriot FA, advising in Benin, some clubs. You need the support of at least five FAs around the world and to have been active in football for at least two years in the previous five years and I meet those requirements.

I take note with a lot of pleasure that the activities in Palestine/Israel are moving forward though that is extremely complicated. After 58 years of separation, the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot FAs have signed a provisional agreement of understanding and now Kosovo can play international friendly matches. I have been working in the daily realities of football.

Reuters: If you became FIFA president, you would be the first Frenchman to hold the position since Jules Rimet in the 1950s. Do you see yourself as a grand reforming visionary as he was? Will you be inheriting his tradition?

JC: This is a very emotional issue for me. As a teenager I worked at France Football as a young freelancer. Even at that time I was interested in the foreign leagues.

France Football was founded by Jules Rimet in 1946 as a one-page official newsletter of the French FA when he was both president of the French FA and FIFA. Now, 37 years later, I am proud to be in a position to run for an office Jules Rimet presided over.

Am I a reformist? I think so, but I am also a traditionalist because I don't want to change what works perfectly. But at the same time we need to modernise and bring FIFA and football into the 21st century, adjusting to the new realities of the game and of the world we live in.

It is not a criticism of anyone, it is a fact of life.

Reuters: You will make changes -- so how will you run FIFA, what will your style be ?

JC: We need to reform the governance of FIFA and make four major changes. I made 11 key recommendations in my paper, but there are four key elements.

In a democracy, whoever wins the election has the right to govern with a majority that backs him in order to implement his programmes.

This is not the case in FIFA where the president has been completely blocked at times by an executive committee that did not back him or support him -- and was not elected by the same process. The FAs, through the Congress, should elect the president and the executive committee.

The second reform: FIFA is a pyramid comprising football associations. But in the last 20 years there has been a swing away from the governing bodies, the FAs, to the (continental) Confederations which the FAs comprise.

But, while the FAs are members of FIFA, the Confederations are not, but they are recognised by FIFA. So my second proposal is that national FAs have a majority of seats in the Executive Committee because the power belongs to them. The FAs comprise the parliament of football. Full competence should be returned to them.

The Confederations, of course, have a hugely important role to play, but the central government should be in the hands of the FAs. I fully support that Congress will in future, make the decision on who will host future World Cups. It was like this before 1966.

The World Cup belongs to the FAs, not to the executive committee.

The third reform is about the continental distribution in the World Cup.

This kind of thinking not only affects football, it affects issues like the re-organisation of the Security Council of the United Nations, or the voting rights in the International Monetary Fund, for example. The world has changed. We see new economic and footballing powers.

But today in football, Africa for example, has 54 members, the same number as UEFA but has less than half the number of teams represented in the World Cup or on the executive committee.

Maybe it was right in 1945, maybe it was right in 1980, but three continents are badly under-represented: Africa, Asia and CONCACAF and we need to address that.

The fourth reform is that in the 21st century we cannot run football in the same way we did in the past and the main actors, the players, the leagues and the clubs, should be on board; for example the representative of FIFPro (the international players union) should be in the decision-making process at the highest level in FIFA.

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.

We also need a strong democratic association of the leagues because the leagues represent the salt and pepper of football life at national level.

I do believe the leagues share the same vision of solidarity because if you are the chairman of a league you want a strong league, where, for example, a Sunderland can compete against a Manchester United.

If you look at the English Premier League, it is not perfect, but it is the closest we have to the right model, a competitive league with a fairer money distribution than many others.

Reuters: For the first time at the World Cup this year we will see goal-line technology being used. Where do you stand on technology ?

JC: We should do everything we can to help the referees. They should have more respect.

I advocate that only the team captain should be allowed to speak to the referee, that if there is violent protest over a decision, we borrow from rugby and move the ball forwards 10 yards.

I believe we should have orange cards leading to sin bins for fouls that are more than yellow cards but not deserving a red one.

And I believe we should have more use of technology. We should help the referee and the linesman for offside decisions and for penalties.

Today, everyone in a VIP or hospitality box, or anyone in the stands watching the match being streamed knows better than the referee, who has to make a split-second decision.

This already exists in other sports and in other countries. We must not be so arrogant as to think we cannot learn from them.

I am a great football romantic, but there is no romanticism in losing the World Cup final because a good goal has been disallowed.

I also think the World Cup is perfect at 32 teams, not 40 teams as has been suggested recently. The balance of the slots needs to change, not the format of the competition.

(Editing by Brian Homewood)

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