Jerome Champagne: Expanding the World Cup to 40 teams is 'pure fantasy', Fifa candidate tells the Independent

Speaking to Kevin E G Perry, the Fifa presidential candidate discusses why lessons can be learned from the Premier League model, why he supports Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup and what he makes of his chances of succeeding Sepp Blatter 

Fifa presidential candidate Jérôme Champagne has dismissed electoral rival Gianni Infantino’s promise to expand the World Cup to 40 teams as “demagoguery” and “pure fantasy.”

With just two weeks to go until the Fifa Extraordinary Congress on February 26, where Sepp Blatter’s successor will be elected, Champagne has claimed that expanding the World Cup as Infantino has proposed would be unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming.

Speaking from his office in Zurich, Champagne said: “It sounds very appealing, but the reality is that the World Cup of 32 teams is already too costly and too complicated to organise. [Expanding] would reduce our ability to improve stadiums and public transportation. Secondly, a World Cup of 40 would need ten groups of four or eight groups of five. If you're coming from a club background, you'd say that the calendar is already too full. We have to protect the leagues and the clubs and the players."

Champagne also spoke of his desire to see more wealth redistribution within the top leagues. He praised the Premier League, where prize money from television revenue is distributed between the first and last team in the league at a 1.5 to 1 ratio. This compares to 2.1 to 1 in Germany, 3.7 to 1 in France and 4.1 to 1 in Italy. 

“That's why, for me, the English league is a model,” explained Champagne. “It's economically successful because it's sportingly successful. When we see Leicester at the top of the league, wow! That's good news for the game. Look at Europe: In 1986 it was possible for a Romanian club to be champions of Europe. In 1991 it was a Yugoslav club. Ajax were champions in 1995. Do you think that's possible today?”

Champagne defended the decision to take the World Cup to Qatar in 2022, arguing that “the Arab world deserves to have the World Cup”, but said that if he were to be elected as Fifa president he would prefer the competition to take place immediately after Ramadan in May, with 9pm and 11pm kick-offs, rather than moving to winter as is currently proposed.

Champagne is considered an outsider to win the presidency behind Uefa General Secretary Infantino and fellow candidates Fifa vice president Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa and South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale.

However, Champagne argued that his rivals will represent more of the same from Fifa, and pointed to his own record of being sacked as a Fifa executive in 2010 as evidence that he’s the right person to root out the problems which have eaten away at the organisation. 

“Let me be clear, I was fired from Fifa in 2010 by a coalition of people including the Qataris and Platini, all of whom are suspended today, because I was denouncing inside some of the behaviour of these confederations,” he said. “I was the first one, in 2012, who put my finger on the need to separate the governmental functions and the commercial functions to make sure there are no conflicts of interest. What is clear is that the very same people who were responsible for the wrong decisions in the confederations are now presenting two candidates: the Uefa general secretary and the AFC president, in order to control more of Fifa - while they were the people who were responsible for the wrong decisions. The responsibility has to stop somewhere. Don't get wrong, it's a very severe crisis and I will spare no effort rolling up my sleeves to restore credibility."

Asked whether he felt confident about his chances in the upcoming election, Champagne said that he understands he faces an uphill fight against his rival’s powerful backers.

"One thing that's worrying is that some of my opponents are financed by campaigns organised by governments, which is the case for Prince Ali from Jordan,” he said. “There are many FA presidents around the world who have been contacted by the minister of foreign affairs in their respective countries and told that the Jordanian ambassador has asked them to tell you to vote for him.”

"What we need is a leader who restores Fifa to credibility, and who is independent from vested interests,” Champagne concluded. “It's clear that some of my opponents are linked with vested interests."