By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Sepp Blatter's former right-hand man Jerome Champagne officially launched his bid to stand for the FIFA presidency on Monday, firing the first shot in a potential 15-month battle for control of the world's richest and most influential sport.
Frenchman Champagne, 55, a former diplomat, worked at FIFA for 11 years between 1999 and 2010 and is a former deputy Secretary General of world soccer's governing body.
The presidential elections will take place in June 2015 with Blatter expected to stand for a fifth term and facing a possible challenge from UEFA president Michel Platini for the role second only to the presidency of the International Olympic Committee in global sporting importance.
Champagne, speaking at the London site where the English FA, the world's oldest, was founded in 1863, ended months of speculation by declaring his bid on a platform of reform based on his far-reaching 20,000-word document "What FIFA for the 21st century ?" published in 2012.
He said his election slogans: "Hope for Football, Hope for All" and "Re-Balance the Game in a Globalised 21st Century" emphasize his message of curbing the polarization of the game into pockets of elite clubs in Europe's richest leagues.
In an interview with Reuters, Champagne said he was advocating four major changes to modernize the organization: "It needs to be more transparent and more in tune with the modern world.
"We need to redress the imbalances in the world game, we need to make FIFA's executive committee more democratic and transparent, we need to introduce technology to assist the referee and his assistants and we need to better handle the globalization of the sport.
"At the very least I want to open up the debate so these issues are examined properly," he added.
Since leaving FIFA in 2010 after being forced out by political infighting, that for once, he was powerless to stop, Champagne has been working as an international soccer consultant in troubled regions such as Kosovo, Palestine and Israel and Cyprus.
Although he is outside FIFA he says he is eligible to stand for the presidency as he has the backing of at least five FAs and has been active in the game for at least two of the last five years.
"I am very active in football, working on a daily basis," he told Reuters.
Blatter, who will be 78 in March, has been president since 1998 and was close to Champagne during his time at FIFA. Blatter has not yet confirmed whether he is standing for a fifth term but hinted last week that he would when saying he was not yet "too tired" to continue.
FIFA, comprising 209 member nations, more than the United Nations, organizes the world's most popular sport but under Blatter's long presidency has suffered a series of crises focused around financial scandals and mismanagement.
Champagne was at FIFA during many of Blatter's woes but was forced out of the organization after political infighting six months before the World Cup started in South Africa in 2010.
Blatter is only the eighth president in the organization's 110-year history.
He said he will announce his intentions before this year's FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil in June.
Platini has also been linked with a bid for the presidency but has not yet declared his position while current FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke and executive committee member Angel-Maria Villar-Llona of Spain have also been mentioned as possible runners.
(Editing by Mitch Phillips)