Presidential rivals Champagne, Infantino clash over FIFA finances

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 20, 2016 1:07 PM

By Brian Homewood

ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne has criticized the plans of rival Gianni Infantino as financially "dangerous" for global soccer's beleaguered ruling body.

Infantino's campaign organizers said in response his proposals were feasible and could be achieved by savings in FIFA and possibly an increase in revenue.

In a letter to FIFA's 209 member national associations (FAs), who each hold one vote in the election, Champagne suggested on Saturday that Infantino's plans could add an extra $900 million to FIFA's expenditure over the next four years.

FIFA is engulfed by a graft scandal that has led to the indictment of several dozen leading soccer officials in the United States, and is under enormous pressure to reform.

Frenchman Champagne and the Swiss Infantino are among five candidates standing to replace outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter, himself banned for eight years for ethics violations, in Friday's election.

Infantino, the general secretary of European soccer's governing body UEFA since 2009, has promised to distribute 5 million dollars every four years to each FA for soccer development, plus $40 million to each of the six continental confederations over the same period.

In the published on Saturday letter, Champagne said that Infantino had made "tempting proposals on paper, which in reality are very dangerous".

He said FIFA's budget for the 2015-18 cycle, which was approved by the FIFA Congress in 2014, predicted an estimated income of 5 billion dollars over the four years.

He said that, although FIFA had initially projected a $100 million profit for the period, that could turn into a deficit of $600 million.

"FIFA is currently going through a difficult period with a deficit of about $100 million in 2015," he said.

Its problems included "many contracts with economic partners that remain unsigned to date, a worst-case projected reduction in income of $600 million until 2018, and the possibility of a fine at the end of the ongoing investigations," Champagne said.

"It seems therefore ludicrous to promise nearly a billion dollars with political and electoral objectives, after having criticized FIFA and President Blatter for years on the alleged grounds that he received votes in exchange for development programs.

"The situation requires that we employ very careful management, and a significant reduction of administrative costs, until the smoke clears and we have a clear handle on the financial future of FIFA."

Infantino's campaign organizers, whose numbers differed slightly from Champagne's, said in reply that the Swiss had a long experience with financial matters.

"He's absolutely sure his proposals are feasible and ... will be easy to put in place considering that we're talking about reinvesting back into football development $1.2 billion out of $5.5 billion revenues," they said in a statement.

"That’s in fact what FIFA should be all about. Football development, not politics, political intrigues or personal attacks.

"Gianni Infantino knows how much it costs to organize a European championship or a World Cup. He know what the personnel and consultancy costs are in FIFA and in UEFA.

The statement said that "very significant savings can easily be made in FIFA's costs so that the amount for reinvestment in football will actually be much higher than the 1.2 billion he (Infantino) is proposing."

Infantino's camp added that "a potential growth of revenues which can quite easily be achieved and his track record in UEFA shows what can be done on the revenue side".

The other candidates are Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan and South African businessman and politician Tokyo Sexwale.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)