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Pele uncorks Champagne's FIFA presidential bid

updated 7:53 PM EST, Mon January 20, 2014
Presidential candidate Jerome Champagne is a former football journalist who has worked for FIFA before.
Presidential candidate Jerome Champagne is a former football journalist who has worked for FIFA before.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jerome Champagne launches bid for FIFA presidency
  • Frenchman is former FIFA deputy Secretary General
  • Ran Sepp Blatter's successful 2002 reelection campaign

(CNN) -- Champagne, Pele and FIFA. It sounds just like another soiree for those who run international football.

Yet it's fundamentally different this time for the Champagne in question is a certain Jerome, the 55-year-old who launched his campaign to dethrone FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Monday.

Once one of Blatter's closest allies following his work as FIFA's deputy Secretary General between 2002 and 2005, the former diplomat is now eying the top job itself ahead of the presidential elections in June 2015.

He is the first candidate to throw his hat into the ring, although both Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini are also expected to stand -- albeit without declaring their intentions yet.

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Adding sparkle and fizz to the opening of Champagne's campaign was the backing of former Brazil star Pele.

"I cannot stay away from a debate which is so important for the future of football and thus, I support Jerome Champagne and his vision," the 73-year-old said in a video message.

Read: Pele promises 'fantastic' World Cup

Pele said that the pair became friends when he was Brazil's Minister of Sport and Champagne was working at the French Embassy in Brazil.

However, Champagne -- who worked at FIFA for 11 years before leaving football's world governing body in 2010 -- chose London and the site where the English FA, the planet's oldest, was founded in 1863 to launch his bid.

Image Problem

In a wide-ranging reform program, the Frenchman outlined his support for greater use of technology in football, a desire to see orange cards and the use of a sinbin to be used between a yellow and red card while also calling for more transparency in the running of FIFA.

"I have to recognize there is an image problem that we need to reconcile," Champagne told CNN.

"If we want to tackle the challenges of the game in the 21st century, we need a FIFA that is more proactive, regulating and democratic -- and that comes with transparency and accountability."

I have a lot of respect for Blatter. He's an honest person, he's not corrupt
Jerome Champagne

Campaigning under the banner "Hope for Football, Hope for All", a man who helped Blatter stand for a successful reelection in 2002 also expressed a desire to redress global imbalances, believing in major disparities in the power of certain leagues, countries and continents.

"FIFA is no different to the rest of our society," he told CNN's World Sport program. "We see a growing wealthiest 1% controlling more of the game, and the middle and less favored classes suffer from that situation. Football is a universal vehicle, and that's why we need to protect it so that it can connect people and nations together."

Read: FIFA hints at winter World Cup

In a move likely to find favor with many football fans around the world, Champagne also backed an ongoing investigation into how Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

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"The World Cup is the largest, most followed sport event in the world. We need to go to a World Cup with total tranquility and serenity," said a man who is bidding to become the first French president of FIFA since Jules Rimet, the founder of the World Cup, in the 1950's.

"If something (improper) has happened, we need to know and if nothing has happened, we need to know as well." The decision has proven highly controversial, especially with the mooted suggestion that the tournament will now be played outside of the traditional months of May-July for the first time in World Cup history because of the intense heat during the Qatari summer.

Funding his own campaign, Champagne needs the support of five national associations to be eligible to stand for election.

He believes this will be possible because of his consultancy work with a number of FA's around the world since leaving FIFA in 2010.

Televised Debate

He may need to work on his campaigning style though, after telling reporters on Monday that he was not sure he could beat Blatter when asked if he could depose the man that has led FIFA since 1998.

"No, I don't think so. He is someone of relevance and we'll see but it's a very hypothetical question," he replied. "A lot can happen."

Nonetheless, Champagne seems as though he will be happy if he can make how the game should be run into a global conversation.

He wants all the presidential candidates to take part in live televised debates whereby both viewers and fans can ask questions.

"At the very least I want to open up the debate so these issues are examined properly," he added.

Should he perhaps surprise even himself and emerge victorious in 2015, Champagne would not have to move far -- since he already lives in Zurich, where FIFA is based, with his wife and children.

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