Challenger to FIFA president vows to stay in race
PARIS (AP) The only declared candidate for the FIFA presidency says he won't step aside if Sepp Blatter confirms before the World Cup that he's seeking a fifth term.
In an interview with The Associated Press, former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne said trying to unseat Blatter is not a lost cause. Blatter is in his 16th year as FIFA president and 39th year with the soccer governing body. There's been no indication of widespread eagerness for change from FIFA's 209 member federations, which have benefited from billions of World Cup dollars.
''An election is an election,'' said Champagne, a former French diplomat and current soccer consultant. ''Don't ask me to tell you now what will be the end result. I leave that to the pundits and I leave that to the journalists. But it's not a problem. You know we have seen a lot of underdogs and outsiders also sometimes winning.''
In 2011, Blatter was re-elected as the only candidate for another four-year term with 186 of 203 votes. He is expected to confirm his re-election plans on June 11 at FIFA's annual assembly in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on the eve of the World Cup. Champagne said that won't cause him to bow out of the May 2015 ballot. Blatter will be 79; Champagne will be 56.
''I will continue defending my ideas. I'm not stopping, because we need a debate,'' Champagne said. ''In a democratic system we need more than one candidate, and I hope more than two candidates because we need different points of views and we need two different options given to the voters.''
''If in the future there is other candidate(s) than me - so far I'm the only one - I will welcome that.''
UEFA president Michel Platini has also been talked about as another potential challenger to Blatter. Platini has said he will consult UEFA's 54 members later this year before announcing his intentions. But his predecessor, UEFA honorary president Lennart Johansson, said this month he thinks it unlikely that Platini will run this time.
Some of Champagne's proposals for soccer differ notably from positions staked out by Blatter. Champagne wants referees to be able to use video replays in offside and penalty decisions. Blatter doesn't advocate video refereeing and only belatedly converted to the use of goal-line technology, which will be used in Brazil for the first time at a World Cup.
Champagne argues that the economics of soccer are becoming unbalanced, with too much money going to too few elite clubs, making the sport less competitive and compelling. He also says FIFA must act and reform to restore its reputation, damaged by repeated bribery scandals and widespread doubts about the integrity of awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
''A lot of things which have been said (are) not correct and unfair. But as we say in the English world: perception is reality. And we have to tackle this issue,'' Champagne said. A presidential campaign with open debate, he said, ''will be a step in reconciling FIFA with the people of football.''
He said one reason he's campaigning is because ''it hurt me many times when I saw FIFA painted negatively'' and because he hasn't been tarnished by scandal himself. He said he is funding his own campaign and has the minimum five endorsements from FIFA member federations needed to run.
''I've no allegations on me. I call upon all the journalists to investigate my past,'' he said.
Champagne said he is ''proud'' of the 11 years he worked under the FIFA president from 1999 to 2010, when he was forced out under pressure from Blatter's executive committee. Champagne also stated: ''Mr. Blatter is not corrupt.''
''It's not a fight about persons, it's about ideas, visions, programs and people of football will decide,'' he said. ''We need a debate, we need a healthy debate. We don't need a confrontational debate.''
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