The Fifa presidential candidate talks to Goal about issues affecting the modern game, from corruption to racism, and elitism to child-trafficking
By Kris Voakes
By Kris Voakes
While incumbent Sepp Blatter is yet to state his intentions over a potential fifth term, Champagne remains the only person to have announced his candidacy.
And the 55-year-old recently sat down with Goal's Kris Voakes to discuss a huge range of issues affecting the modern game as well as his vision for the future of Fifa.
In our three-part series, the presidential candidate covers a number of vital topics, beginning with Fifa's handling of problems surrounding the World Cup and key political issues.
|Are you concerned by the way in which the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups has been handled?
I think the Fifa president himself said that it was a mistake to vote for two World Cups at the same time, and I cannot concur more.
One positive consequence of this controversy is that the responsibility to ensure the hosting of the World Cup has been transferred back to the national football associations, as was the case until 1966. The national football associations are the owners of Fifa. Fifa was created by them, and for them, as was the World Cup.
The second positive consequence is that the Fifa Ethics Committee is now fully independent. This was not the case before because any investigation had to be vetted by the General Secretary. Now there is no statute of limitations, which there was at that time. These are positive consequences. Also, some of the members of the ExCo have resigned after this Ethics Committee became independent.
But I think today we need to go to the end of the process. It is clear that for the moment the decision is that we go to Qatar in June and July 2022, but we have three issues: the issue of the workers, the issue of the date, and the issue of the controversy.
My first diplomatic assignment was in the Arab Gulf. I lived there, I love the culture, I studied Arabic, and I think it is excellent that we should take the World Cup over there. However, three processes have to be completed.
The World Cup is about joy. It is about passion. How can we go to a stadium knowing that the lives of workers have been lost, or severely harmed? I think it is very good that now the German trade unions and the German member of the Fifa Executive Committee Theo Zwanziger are saying that in the next bidding process we need to incorporate the issue of human rights. I applaud this. But for the current situation we need to make sure that these workers’ situations improve, and today.
|The World Cup is about joy. It is about passion. How can we go to a stadium knowing that the lives of workers have been lost?
- Jerome Champagne
On the issue of the date, I am very aware of the fact that the period of time in the calendar allocated for the Olympic Games or the World Cup of June, July and August could create problems for countries who would like to be hosts but whose climactic conditions are not conducive. So we have to address this issue, it is our duty as the world organisation to think about those who would like to have the World Cup or Olympic Games but can't because of the weather conditions. But that debate should have taken place before the vote, not after the vote.
So the question now is whether Fifa will be able to find another date other than June or July which does not disrupt everything for three years; the season before, the current season and the season after?
As far as the third process is concerned, we have read allegations of collusion of votes, of political influence or interference like in Germany, in France, in Brazil. We have seen allegations, in fact, of vote buying. So my position is clear: the World Cup should be cleared of any doubts, of any allegations.
[US attorney] Michael Garcia should continue his investigation, the result should be announced, and according to what will be the result of the three processes, all options should be on the table, because we don't know the outcomes. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
|What do you make of the attempts from within Fifa to have Michael Garcia removed from the investigations into corruption allegations?
It is not acceptable. The Ethics Committee was created by the Congress on an amendment of the Fifa statute. Michael Garcia has been elected by the 209 federations, so it is not acceptable.
|The Independent Governance Committee has told Fifa to resolve allegations of corruption will full transparency. Can Fifa possibly rule the game effectively without doing whatever it takes to restore its credibility?
Fifa not only has to run and govern the game, it has to be strengthened because the challenges we have already discussed require a stronger Fifa, a more democratic Fifa, and a more proactive Fifa.
If you refer to the recently published report from Mark Pieth (the Swiss governance expert appointed by Fifa to propose recommendations for change) and also the interview he gave to a Zurich newspaper, he said a lot of interesting things. He said it is not easy to govern Fifa when the delegates of the confederations in the ExCo are not elected by the Fifa Congress. I think his report says a lot of interesting things that to some extent vindicate what I have been saying for two and a half years since my first paper sent in January 2012 in which I said we need to reform the ExCo, because Fifa belongs to the FAs but the power in the ExCo has been controlled by the confederations.
Fifa is a federation of national FAs. The confederations play a big role, but they are not members of Fifa. So we need to change that, we need to rebalance between the continents. It is the same debate as the reform of the Security Council of the United Nations, and the same debate as the IMF voting rights in which we still have Belgium with more voting rights than China.
We need to adjust, and Fifa needs to adjust, without conflict, without violence and without aggression. But Fifa should always represent the world as it is, not as it was. And I found Mr Pieth's report very encouraging because I have been saying the same thing for years now.
|Considering Russia's lack of laws regarding homophobia and the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar, should Fifa be more stringent in its vetting of social conditions before allowing countries to bid for World Cup hosting rights?
All the World Cups since 1978 have been organised in democracies. We have to be clear that there is no perfect democracy, not in the UK, not in France, not elsewhere. But organising a World Cup in a democracy is the right choice. Why? Because football is about the people, and people equal democracy.
So, the key is in making the organisation of a World Cup accepted by the population, and a lot of people in Brazil are complaining not about the World Cup itself but rather about how it has been organised, and how contracts have been signed.
In Brazil there is a past record of corruption and impunity, and a lot of people are demonstrating – as they have the right to do so – against the culture of impunity which permeates through the Brazilian elite.
On the two World Cups which are coming after Brazil, you raise two important questions.
I would have voted for Russia in the 2018 ballot. Why? Because we must have the guts to go to new territories. It was also about justice, because Soviet football and Russian football have brought a lot to the history of world football. Of course there was Lev Yashin the great goalkeeper, and we saw in the 1970s when teams played so vertically under Lobanovskiy and the arrival of Dynamo Kiev as a giant. It is about justice.
There is now also the question regarding the consequences of the current political situation, but we can’t know that now, so I have no answer.
But it is clear that discrimination – whatever its basis, whether gender, sexual orientation – is not acceptable. And it is not acceptable in football, whether it is in England, whether it is in South America, whether it is in Russia. Football is about equality, it is about respect. What matters in the locker room is not your passport, nor your social class, the colour of your skin, your religion or your sexual orientation. It is your skill with the ball, and that’s all.
|Can Fifa do more to ensure that money promised from private investment does not come from public funds, as is the argument in Brazil?
I think it is a very interesting case. Having lived in Brazil and followed Brazilian domestic politics, and being able to speak Portuguese fluently, I can speak a little bit about it. I love the country too, and my first son was born there. I arrived in 1995, when hyper-inflation had disappeared and a lot of people have been left below the poverty line answering to the lower-middle class.
Thanks to the traditional evolution in history, people are worried less about what they have on their plates and the leaking roof, and are now worried about education, about better transportation, about more transparency in the way tax payers' money is used, and that is exactly what the Brazilians are doing.
So in terms of the responsibility of Fifa, the bid to host was based on a public-private partnership, and some people believe it will not work out as such, so maybe Fifa should have intervened earlier. But today is too early to analyse the consequences. That has to be done after the World Cup.
Fifa has to do even more, in terms of how we organise the bid. Should Fifa have said: 'Actually, we don't need 12 stadiums, we only need nine'? We'll see after the World Cup. And as you know, a lot of protestors who were there were not so much criticising the World Cup as criticising the way the World Cup was organised.
I think after the World Cup we will have to look at what has been done, in terms of the bidding process, the implementation, the lack of control, the consequences. But also we need to look at what we should do in the future: more control, more modesty, a shorter list of requirements.
But if you go on holiday to France or you go on holiday to Senegal, you don't ask that a new airport is built, so we should expect that to be the same at a World Cup. What matters is that the team arrives on time, that the team has good training camps. And if you are a fan, you will have the real Brazilian experience.
So I think that this World Cup will be a turning point, not only in the way that democracy works but also in terms of the way that Fifa organises not just the bids, and I welcome the fact that Mr Zwanziger said that we need to incorporate human rights judgements in future and we need to also look at the way we handle bid requirements.
But let's look at this after a World Cup that I am sure will be great in sporting terms.
|What can be done about scenes like the one at Villarreal-Barcelona recently?
I fully support what Mr Blatter has said: fines are not enough. When England faced hooliganism, the clubs were made partially responsible; they were banned from European competitions. Even though the clubs do not share the racist vision of these stupid people portraying racist behaviour and singing racist songs, we have to be very, very strong. That's why I think fines are not enough.
Racism is stupid. It is absurd. We have 25,000 genes, and only one per cent of these genes determine the colour of our skin, the shape of our nose and whether or not we have curly hair. We have created this absurd system, where unfortunately in some countries people think we are more than one race and are talking about differing races. But we are all one race.
I think we should be extremely, extremely strong on this. It is a very serious matter, and I am proud that during my time at Fifa we organised in Buenos Aires the first Fifa Congress on racism in football. In the 21st Century we cannot segregate people for any reason.
|Have football authorities done enough in the battle against racism? Uefa issued many fines during Euro 2012 for racist behaviour, but all of them combined did not match the punishment for Nicklas Bendtner's guerilla marketing
I think the decisions taken by the Disciplinary Committee of Uefa were not correct. You cannot compare those incidents. I repeat that we should have zero tolerance and be very harsh. The push by weareallmonkeys.com is a way to show these stupid people that their behaviour is not acceptable, but I think there should be fines, there should be relegations and there should be expulsion from competitions.
|Can football ever do enough given that this is a problem that general society is still fighting to this day?
Football alone cannot do anything. Governments alone cannot do anything. It is going to take a joint effort. I remember watching my first World Cup on a black and white TV screen in 1970, and we were all crazy about this Brazilian national team which had whites, mixed-race players and blacks. Football's most iconic man is a black man, Pele, because football is not racist.
Unfortunately, a lot of people believe races exist, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. Even President Obama, for whom I have full respect, talks of various races existing in the United States. But there is only one race.