A man with new ideas and a "clean" reputation could have a major football future, writes Steve Menary
On October 21, FIFA president Sepp Blatter unveiled a series of plans to combat the seemingly endemic problem of corruption in international football. Blatter proposed to reopen an investigation into the collapse of former marketing partner ISL, raising the possibility that senior FIFA figures could be shown to have taken bribes. Last year, FIFA paid CHF 5.5 million (£3.9m) to settle the case, but Blatter has now said: "We will give this file to an independent organisation outside of FIFA so they can delve into this file and extract its conclusions and present them to us."
The next FIFA executive committee meeting in December will create a good governance taskforce and draw up a roadmap – a phrase often used by politicians to delay the inevitable. By 2013, three new bodies focusing on revising statutes, ethics and transparency, plus an existing group led by Franz Beckenbauer already looking at how laws and match control affect the game's attractiveness, will all report their findings.
Two years later, Blatter will retire. He is expected to be succeeded by UEFA president Michel Platini but that could change after another Frenchman with plenty of international experience put forward his ideas for the world game earlier in October. Jerome Champagne is one of the few senior executives at the world body not tainted by corruption and he has finally broken his self-imposed 18-month silence to talk about the state of the game.
Champagne, a former diplomat, was FIFA's director of international relations until he was forced out mysteriously last year. As FIFA began to list under the weight of unseemly – but often correct – allegations, Champagne was fighting the good fight. He helped Kenyan clubs combat a corrupt executive, tried to reunite warring Greek and Turkish factions in Cyprus and looked for ways to help Kosovo's isolated footballers.
FIFA never gave an explanation for Champagne's departure and nor did he at last month's biennial Play The Game conference. But he finally addressed the problems he saw in FIFA and offered potential solutions. Careful not to support Blatter (and often defending the controversial supremo to reporters while off-stage), Champagne took to the podium in Cologne to give a wide-ranging and impressive address.
He identified seven key issues in the game that needed tackling, including relationships between grassroots, clubs and national associations, and a need for a balanced calendar. The clubs were not just to blame, said Champagne, as national associations also organise "exotic friendly matches". Greater parity was needed between Europe and the rest of the world, particularly Africa. Champagne cited that eight of the 24 seats on the executive committee are held by European representatives.
He stuck up for players, insisting that for all the mega-rich stars there remain "places where players have to take a gun to get paid". There was also nothing wrong with the "new trend of club owners wanting a return". But he cautioned over too many clubs dominating domestic competitions due to Champions League money. Champagne argued for the autonomy of sport and a balance between globalisation and national identity.
Champagne ended by proposing a number of solutions that he was confident Blatter could deliver. These included a revival of the democratic debate in FIFA with wider influence for national associations, clubs and players. Governance needed strengthening and this could be solved be giving the president more power, argued Champagne, who described Blatter as an elected president in charge of an unelected executive. Football's parliament should be "recentralised" and administration between footballing and commercial concerns split.
Champagne's perceptive speech was clearly one from a man who is looking for a return to the fold. If he succeeds, it could have major implications for the game. Unlike Platini, Champagne does not come with a regional block of votes but he has no baggage and his reputation is unsullied by FIFA's dirty politics. It is still possible that Champagne rather than Platini could emerge as Blatter's anointed successor. If so, Europe's traditional weighty influence could suffer. But that appointment might be of more long-term benefit to an international body still widely viewed as both bloated and blighted by corruption.
From WSC 298 December 2011