FIFA candidate Champagne courts Europe support over Qatar World Cup

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2016 7:54 AM

By Mike Collett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne said that as head of soccer's governing body he would seek to move the 2022 Qatar World Cup from November-December to late European spring - a step that would please European associations by averting disruption of their season.

The 57-year-old Frenchman also accused Swiss rival Gianni Infantino, who according to UEFA has the broad support of European nations, of abandoning the region's soccer interests in backing the change in timing of the tournament from traditional mid-year to avoid searing Gulf summer heat.

Champagne told Reuters in an interview he did not believe the graft allegations that have pitched FIFA into the worst crisis in its 112-year history meant the organization itself was corrupt "no matter what some people might like to believe".

At the heart of the FIFA crisis is a 2010 decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

In the weeks and months leading up to the announcement, there were widespread allegations of vote-trading, bribery and corruption, with two FIFA executive committee members suspended even before the voting took place.

Both host nations deny any wrongdoing.

ARAB WORLD AND WORLD SOCCER

While criminal investigations continue into the awarding of the tournaments, FIFA has changed the timing to the European winter for the 2022 tournament. This alters regular season schedules of domestic leagues for possibly two years. A move back to European spring would be hugely popular around the world, not just in Europe.

"If I am elected president I will re-open the issue of the dates of the tournament in Qatar because I want to defend not only the European leagues, but football around the world.

"I think it is very important to send a signal to the Arab world today, that you are part of us, the football civilization, especially now."

He said he was appalled by both FIFA and the European body UEFA's agreement to the change in timing.

"It was Platini and Infantino's role to defend the interests of European football but they did not do it because Platini had to justify his vote for Qatar."

Former UEFA head Michel Platini and ousted veteran FIFA president Sepp Blatter have both been banned from soccer over a $2 million payment made to Platini with Blatter's approval in 2011 for work concluded nine years earlier.

A total of 41 individuals and entities, including many former FIFA officials, have been charged with corruption-related offences in the United States. The U.S. investigation is far from over and FIFA also faces a parallel Swiss probe.

While Champagne wants the World Cup to be held in the Muslim world, he says it should be moved to the United States if any of the allegations of vote-rigging are proven.

"If it has to be reconsidered, we should not vote again but apply the IOC (International Olympic Committee) jurisprudence, give the gold medal to the silver medalist which was the United States in the vote," he said. "Then we go to Asia in 2026."

Champagne, himself a former FIFA deputy general secretary, faces opposition from Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, South African businessman and politician Tokyo Sexwale as well as Infantino.

Champagne said it was now the future that concerned him most.

"Of course FIFA is in a very grave situation, but I believe the light will begin to shine through by the end of February," he said.

(Editing by: Ralph Boulton)