Why did one of Sepp Blatter’s key aides suddenly leave a top post at FIFA this week? Speculation from journalists is rife. The true story, sadly, is hard to find.
FIFA’s International Relations Director Jerome Champagne surprisingly departed from the world’s governing body this week, despite the fact that World Football Insider says Champagne had been “believed to be positioning himself for a run for Blatter’s job” next year. ESPN Soccernet similarly reported that “Champagne may have been positioning himself to run for president in next year’s election.”
Matt Scott at the Guardian concurs, seeing Blatter’s move as a sign of weakness:
Sepp Blatter is under increasing pressure as the president of Fifa, with his closest adviser having been dismissed last Friday following a coup. The departure of Fifa’s director of international relations, Jérôme Champagne, came as a result of the same stormy, seditious executive committee meeting last month at which Blatter was challenged over Fifa finances.
The move on Robben Island reflected a growing boldness among the heads of continental confederations, who have been growing their own powerbases and influence at the expense of Fifa’s once-omnipotent president.
Champagne’s direct courting of national associations – some say in an effort to promote his own ambitions towards the Fifa presidency, others say because he was under orders to cut out the confederations – left him vulnerable. And Blatter was told by the principal figures in the executive committee from the Asian, African and European blocs that unless Champagne was fired, the president himself would face a serious problem in future.
The background of unrest comes at a defining time for Blatter’s 12-year-old presidency and less than 18 months before he seeks re-election for another four-year term. His delivery of the first World Cup on African soil comes to the crunch this year and risks being a logistical disaster, with sponsors and fans declining to travel to a nation of questionable security at a time of economic difficulty.
If Blatter has been relieved by the reaction to Champagne’s departure, he is not out of the woods yet. With several senior pretenders to his throne ready to mount their challenge from within Fifa’s ex-co, his reputation will stand or fall with events in South Africa this summer.
Andrew Jennings, our favourite thorn in FIFA’s side, reports a slightly different background story, noting that FIFA’s briefings to journalists only hint at what the acclaimed investigative journalist believes are the real reasons behind Champagne’s departure at the behest of a confederation boss we can guess resides somewhere in the Americas:
Sepp Blatter’s FIFA is in chaos following the frenzied sacking of Jerome Champagne, one of the few clean senior executives remaining at the highest level of world football.
Blatter capitulated to furious demands from one of the most corrupt members of FIFA’s 23-man executive committee – from outside Europe – that Champagne had to be fired.
He had become increasingly incensed at Champagne’s attempts to block his rampant thieving from football.
Blatter and his general secretary Jérôme Valcke spent Friday hurriedly persuading reporters that Champagne had to go because he was planning to run against Blatter in the presidential elections.
This is nonsense; Champagne never tried to build his own power base – and probably couldn’t have persuaded a single national association to risk Blatter’s anger and nominate him. It is virtually impossible to unseat Blatter who ‘looks after’ his voters in the national associations so generously with millions of dollars for unaudited ‘development.’
But Jennings does say that “An increasing threat to Blatter’s survival comes from FIFA’s World Cup sponsors who are letting it be known they are disturbed by the endless corruption allegations clouding his administration and dirtying their brands.”
So, might this be an opportunity for Michel Platini to ride in as a white knight? The AP reports that Platini will decide his future before the 2010 World Cup, saying “I’m very happy (as UEFA president), but, still, I can also be very happy elsewhere.” The Guardian speculates that Platini may challenge Sepp Blatter instead. Platini, though, would have a lot of work to do to win the necessary votes from outside UEFA to beat Blatter, or another confederation chief.
And yeah, I’m as confused as you are as to what’s really going on here, and I shan’t pretend to know otherwise. And sadly, that’s just how Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and the many cronies getting rich out of our love for the game want it to be.
And the parlour games go on.