Seven candidates have been confirmed and will stand in FIFA's presidential election, including Michel Platini who is currently serving a 90-day ban from football.
– INTERVIEW: Champagne is in it, but can he win it?
– VIDEO: Kuwait’s Sheikh Al-Sabah talks FIFA
Tokyo Sexwale is one of those. Nelson Mandela's ex-prison mate has long been involved in South African politics. He cut his teeth into football during the bidding process for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Next in line is Jerome Champange. The Frenchman worked alongside Sepp Blatter for 11 years at FIFA before leaving in 2010 and this will be his second running for the position.
Prince Ali bin Hussain is the current President of the Jordan Football Association.
Musa Bility is another President of his country's football association, that of the Liberian FA and is heavily involved in the gas & oil industry.
Often seen as the hosts of UEFA's football draws in the Champions League and so on, General Secretary Gianni Infantino has been involved in football for 15 years.
Michel Platini is currently serving a 90-day from football for corruption claims, he hopes to run and will be a likely favourite if he does so.
Last but not least, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa is – like Platini was until suspension – a FIFA vice-president. He makes up the seven who run for the FIFA Presidency on February 26 next year.
Back in 2010, Sepp Blatter removed his diplomatic advisor fearing that he harboured ambitions of replacing him. The man in question, Jerome Champagne, has been denying the claims ever since they emerged. Until now.
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After an unsuccessful first attempt, Champagne is once again in the fray to succeed Blatter as FIFA boss. The Frenchman has nothing to lose but with the deadline to file nominations now over and his rivals known, the question really is can Champagne win?
The 57-year-old is more optimistic than before of his chances. Despite being one of the early challengers to Blatter last May, Champagne couldn’t contest as he failed to gather required nominations. But the corruption meltdown in FIFA, which has seen a host of its executives – including Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini suspended – has renewed his determination.
“FIFA needs someone who understands the game and the world, who can relate to the various cultures of our planet, who can impulse the reforms and the energy to govern the game worldwide. Not necessarily a former player or coach,” Champagne tells Sport360.
A swipe at Platini, perhaps, but Champagne insists he felt it imperative to run again after the scandals resurfaced – the recent controversies involving Blatter and Platini further strengthening his resolve.
Blatter, 79, and Platini, 60, are currently suspended after reports emerged that payment of Dhs7.6 million (£1.35m) was made in 2011 for work Platini did as Blatter’s adviser. The payment was seen as conflict of interest by Domenico Scala, FIFA’s audit and compliance committee chairman.
It must be noted that Platini too is running for the post of FIFA president despite being in the firing line for allegedly accepting bribes.
Champagne officially declared his candidature last week, with a nomination letter endorsed by eight Football Associations – three more than the minimum of five required as per FIFA statutes.
“Things have changed dramatically over the past few months, marred by revelations, suspensions and controversies. And there is a strong aspiration for change,” Champagne says.
A diplomat by profession, Champagne treads cautiously when asked about Blatter and the issues that brought him down.
Thanks to Mordechai Spiegler for his support pic.twitter.com/skKNmW9GJ0
— Jérôme Champagne (@JChampagne2016) October 23, 2015
“Mr. Blatter has football and FIFA at heart. He is a very hard-working person. History will judge what he has achieved for the globalisation of football,” Champagne says.
“The recent allegations against Blatter and Platini were important factors [in deciding to run again] because FIFA and football need a strong leadership, who know the game, understand the world and its complexity. In brief, FIFA is in danger.”
Champagne doesn’t use the word ‘danger’ loosely. Having spent more than a decade as part of FIFA, he is aware of the internal workings of the governing body. Before football, he served in the French embassies of Oman, Cuba, California and Brazil – joining FIFA for the 1998 World Cup in France.
His roles in FIFA were varied – serving as Blatter’s diplomatic advisor to deputy secretary general before being removed in 2010. He continued to live in Zurich, the home of FIFA, even after he left.
His post-FIFA life has consisted of building a consultancy business to help countries who have problems involving sport and politics; his background, he hopes, will be helpful in convincing the members to vote for him.
“During the eleven years I spent in FIFA, I was close to the member associations, at their service to develop football at national level and defend them when they were attacked. They know me and know as well that the FAs will be at the centre of my attention if I am elected FIFA president.”
Champagne’s manifesto focuses largely on national federations. He talks of making FIFA more receptive to the 209 member associations, more democratic, more in step with changes around the world.
The Frenchman knows the areas that require reform and his basic pitch remains the same. It is a strategy he hopes will win him votes. Champagne has advocated more spots on FIFA’s executive committee for Asian and African nations while reducing ‘elitism’ and making the body more ‘democratic.’
That is not, however, the main area for reform that most feel FIFA requires.
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) October 23, 2015
Champagne admits ‘zero-corruption’ will be tough to achieve but insists he will push for stricter punishments for those who are guilty of wrongdoing.
“Every entity has its own members with wrong behaviour but no one can judge a whole institution by the behaviour of a minority – even though this minority is at the top,” Champagne says. “But we need to reform and correct errors with resolve but without demagoguery, without simplism and without whitewashing.
“We are all against crime and have strong laws but crime still exists. One should not be naive to believe that ‘zero corruption’ can be achieved easily. It will request stronger control mechanisms and stiffer sanctions for those who breach the rules.”
Eventually, Champagne hopes the focus will shift to the sport itself, which has “continued to grow” despite the mess the governing body finds itself in.
He wants to empower referees and introduce laws which would deter players from reacting aggressively to referees’ decisions. He has also spoken about introducing an ‘orange card’, which would send player to the sin bin for committing a foul like in rugby, hockey or basketball.
But these are ideas that will come to fruition only if he manages to garner enough support by the time FIFA’s extraordinary committee meeting convenes in February next year.
Champagne is positive not just about his chances but also that the situation will eventually get better at FIFA.
“It is never as bad as it seems and never as good as it pretends to be. Right now, the challenge for me is to have the strength and the energy to convince 209 FAs and their leaders around the world. But I am sure I have it.”
With Platini, Prince Ali and David Nakhid his rivals, Champagne has nothing to lose. It remains to be seen, however, whether he can win.
IOC Member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, FIFA Presidential Election, Kuwait's Olympic body.