Jerome Champagne is back. Not that Sepp Blatter’s one-time political adviser ever really went away. The Frenchman, ousted from FIFA after 11 years and one too many internal defeats, has been filling his time with co-ordination and consultancy roles in even more politically-charged environments from Palestine to Kosovo.
Now, to mark the second anniversary of his Zurich exit, Champagne has launched himself back into the FIFA debate with a lengthy exposition of how the world federation should be rebuilt, in both creative political balance and administrative structure.
The significance of Champagne’s decision to break his silence is two-fold.
Firstly, Champagne has always remained scrupulously careful in remarks, both on and off the record, not to give in to any temptation to settle old scores; not for Champagne the wild threats of a Jack-Warner-style ‘football tsunami’ in revenge for having been pushed out of world football’s Zurich fortress.
Secondly, this is the first time a serious set of proposals for the re-construction challenge have been set out by a recent insider – and one who was so close to the seat of power.
Champagne, in summarising his views, even started by tipping his hat to Blatter for “the initiative” of launching “a debate on FIFA’s future.” Hence, right at the start, he even issued a clear signal that he laid responsibility for his departure at other doors than that of the president.
For Champagne, football has been a “victim of its own success” and needed to re-examine the imbalances which have evolved between grassroots and professional football, between clubs and countries, between Europe and the rest of the world, between clubs and players as well as issues such as football’s relationship with money (“and the dangers of its excesses”), its status within the law and its global identity.
Supportively, he added: “FIFA has more than ever a strategic role to play but also needs to adjust without having to abandon its values and its missions.”
He saw a need to strip national associations of sole command of the decision-making process by far wider inclusion of confederations, leagues, clubs and players, a “fairer football income redistribution” as well as the obvious demand – echoed far and wide – for governance based on modernity, transparency, democratic debate and ethics.
Above all, urged Champagne, there was a need to “reconnect FIFA with the ‘people of football.’”
Champagne himself has denied, to this writer, any suggestion that he is seeking to re-position himself for a possible return through the front door should, say, fellow Frenchman Michel Platini succeed Blatter as president in 2005. More, he has also denied, in an interview with Le Monde, that he has any presidential ambitions of his own.
Instead, he had spoken out because of his love and respect for the game and his belief that he has a significant perspective worth consideration in the current, fraught climate. Hence his ‘manifesto for change’ has been sent to all his old colleagues in high places and the national associations.
Even so . . . being sacked from FIFA is not necessarily the end of the football world. Take Valcke, for example: one day he was being shown the marketing department door as a very public scapegoat for the MasterCard/Visa sponsor switch. Less than a year later he was back as secretary-general.
By Keir Radnedge