FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, is no stranger to controversy. Allegations of bribery, corruption and vote-rigging have swirled around the organization for years, many of them recently centered on Qatar and its winning bid for the 2022 World Cup. Jerome Champagne, a French former diplomat and FIFA executive, wants the chance to right the ship.
- Jerome Champagne is running for FIFA president next year.
Mr. Champagne is running for FIFA president next year likely against Sepp Blatter, who has held the position since 1998 and is expected to seek re-election. He spoke to The Wall Street Journal this week about his platform and positions, which include a focus on democratizing the sport and the inclusion of human rights criteria in the World Cup award process.
WSJ: You’ve talked before about wealth disparities between clubs in Europe and the rest of the world, and how that’s negatively affecting the game. What about the increasing power of global investors and billionaire owners like Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour of Manchester City? Should there be curbs on people like this?
Mr. Champagne: “Money is necessary in football. If you want to build an artificial field in Bolivia or eastern Europe to develop the game, the cost is $600,000 to $1 million. If you look at what FIFA makes, over a four-year period it’s $5 billion. You can only mark a third for development. We need more money in football.”
“We need more investors, but we need to make sure all these investments won’t all to go to Europe. Financial fair play is a good idea because nobody can spend more than one earns, but I do believe the financial surplus doesn’t address the real issue. One percent of these clubs make a lot of money and the others are suffering.”
WSJ: You’ve worked in the Middle East before, having advised the Palestine Football Federation and the Palestine Olympic Committee. You also worked for a time at the French embassy in Oman. Is the region ready for a World Cup?
Mr. Champagne: “I think football in the Arab world is very important and I see that possibly we need to do more to produce local players. I know it’s a challenge in countries where the population is not so huge.”
“Do you think the U.S. were ready to have the World Cup in 1994, when [Major League Soccer] was not born? I think we should be very humble, and I do think the world cup in the region would boost the sport in the region. The real issue is not whether the region is ready – of course they’re ready.”
WSJ: Let’s talk about the allegations of corruption surrounding the awarding of the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar. Is it your belief that these votes were clean?
Mr. Champagne: “Innocent until proven guilty. The World Cup should remain untainted. We cannot go with some doubts. We cannot go with allegations. If something is discovered, we will have to take a decision.”
WSJ: Are you saying you’d strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup if something were found?
Mr. Champagne: “It will depend on whether we find something, what will be found, and whether it influenced the vote. All options are on the table.”
“We need to have institutional reforms. I support change in FIFA statutes that transfers the decision to the Congress [a FIFA body composed of its 209 member associations that elects its powerful Executive Committee]. The decision of hosting the World Cup was made by the Congress until 1966 and after that it was transferred to the Executive Committee. FIFA is a federation of national football associations, created by them and for them and in order to serve them.”
WSJ: A lot of concern has been raised recently about alleged exploitation and poor living conditions for migrant workers in Qatar who will build its World Cup stadiums and the surrounding infrastructure. What’s your stance on this?
Mr. Champagne: “I welcomed [FIFA executive committee member Theo] Zwanziger when he said the World Cup should include human rights in the list of criteria for hosting. Football is about equality. When players are congregating in the locker room there’s no color, creed or sexual orientation. What matters is how you master the ball. It’s a value of equality, it’s a value of opportunity, it’s a value of no discrimination. As much as it is possible democracies are supposed to be based on these things.”
WSJ: So should there be minimum standards for workers in World Cup host countries, like the ability to unionize?
Mr. Champagne: “Yes, proper unions, the right to travel and all these things which are the minimum standards. I welcome what Zwanziger said, which is we need to incorporate these criteria.”
“Before the focus was on workers from the Indian subcontinent, a lot of companies have made deals there. Foreign governments are sending people and building there and suddenly we have FIFA to solve a problem when these countries haven’t done anything? Have you seen any government severing ties because of the workers?”
“I have no problem that FIFA is under the microscope. It’s a reality. But I think FIFA cannot be asked to solve a problem that foreign governments and foreign companies haven’t done anything to solve.”
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(via WSJ Blogs)