David Ginola paid $380k by bookmaker to seek FIFA presidency
LONDON (AP) It took a $380,000 payment from a stunt-prone bookmaker to persuade former France international David Ginola to launch an improbable bid to unseat FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
With the fee secured, Ginola started his campaign on Friday by decrying the credibility of Blatter's FIFA before admitting he knew little about the governing body's processes or institutions.
The former Paris-Saint Germain and Tottenham player could not name a member of FIFA's ruling executive committee, which includes Blatter, and looked dumbfounded when asked about the International Football Association Board, which sets the rules of the game.
''I need to know a lot more about FIFA,'' Ginola, who is known beyond football for his suave model looks and shampoo adverts, responded, looking uncharacteristically flustered.
But the 47-year-old Ginola only has until Jan. 29 to convince five of the 209 national associations to endorse his campaign.
Even if Ginola produces the required nominations, FIFA requires proof he has filled an active role in football for two of the last five years. His most recent role as listed on the press release announcing his candidacy is as an international campaigner for England's failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup, which ended in 2010.
FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert in November said there were ''potentially problematic facts and circumstances'' surrounding England's bid.
''I wasn't really in the big conversations,'' Ginola acknowledged on Friday, playing down his function.
After previously showing little interest in a job in football politics, Ginola reconsidered when approached by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, which is better known for stunts like offering odds on Oscar Pistorius' murder trial.
One of the biggest challenges confronting world football centers on bookmakers funding a sport that is also trying to tackle the problem of match-fixing through illegal betting markets. Even a commercial behemoth like FIFA does not have a betting sponsorship, and Ginola's involvement with a commercial sponsor appeared to immediately undermine his proposed candidacy.
''I need to be paid because I'm not a football player anymore,'' Ginola said.
Former England striker Gary Lineker, who also worked on England's World Cup bid, said on Twitter: ''Not entirely sure a campaign backed by a publicity seeking bookmaker is the answer to all FIFA's ethical problems.''
Despite his name being touted, Lineker has repeatedly ruled out challenging Blatter, who is running for a fifth, four-year term as president in May. FIFA Vice President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan and former FIFA official Jerome Champagne also want to enter the race, but have not said if they have the required five nominations.
Ginola's campaign team admitted that it has yet to receive any indication that a federation will back the bid. To achieve that, the team has recruited David Larkin, who runs the ''Change FIFA'' Twitter account that is followed by around 19,000 and mostly relays links to articles.
Ginola's media release said: ''Change FIFA is an affiliation of football fans working for positive change in the game.''
Larkin, who appeared alongside Ginola at the media conference, acknowledged that the organization is effectively the Twitter account run by himself and another man. ''Change FIFA'' never appears to have held an event, has no business office listed, lacks a website and has no means for fans to register and join it.
''When people need help and they contact me I am happy to help,'' said Larkin, who is registered as a patent attorney.
''Change FIFA'' in 2011 backed the candidacy of Elias Figueroa, a three-time South American Player of the Year. It failed to gain one nomination, which was required then.
Ginola's campaign said it is based on ensuring ''transparency'' at FIFA. The London-based publicity firm hired to run the campaign told reporters on Thursday that Ginola's candidacy would be revealed at a fashionable Soho hotel on Friday - and not before. But on Thursday Ginola conducted an interview with a British tabloid, which was posted online later in the day.
Ginola himself acknowledged at his campaign launch: ''If we can't remove all suspicion and doubt from football then it cannot be trusted. And trust is what we need above anything else.''
Ginola is seeking 2.3 million pounds ($3.5 million) for the campaign via a crowd funding program.
It could be over in two weeks, but Ginola will still be 250,000 pounds better off. And a bookmaker, whose branding was plastered over the launch, will have received free publicity worth far more than that.
The likely outcome, health permitting, is that Blatter will be re-elected, given the widespread support already in place for the 78-year-old incumbent's campaign.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris