FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne believes Sepp Blatter will be “better judged by history for what he did for football” and has also described criticism of Issa Hayatou as “atrocious”.
Champagne is one of five men running to replace Blatter at the head of the world game with an election scheduled for February 26.
Allegations of widespread corruption have tarnished FIFA’s image over the past few months. Several former and current officials have been placed under arrest, while Blatter was provisionally suspended for an alleged “disloyal payment” made to UEFA president Michel Platini, whose own presidential campaign has been put on hold until a ruling is made by FIFA’s Ethics Committee.
Despite a scandal-hit period in charge, Champagne believes Blatter does not deserve the criticism currently flying his way and outlined his relationships with the men vying to succeed him.
He told Omnisport: “Everyone has been close to him: Prince Ali was elected vice-president in 2011 thanks to Mr Blatter’s support; Sheikh Salman became the AFC president with the support of Mr Blatter; Tokyo Sexwale was appointed chief of the inter-racism task force by Mr Blatter.
“Whatever happened in the past, I’m sure that Mr Blatter will remain in history and be better judged by history for what he did for football rather than the media do today.”
Champagne also rounded on critics of Hayatou, who is serving as interim FIFA president despite undergoing a kidney transplant operation, after he appeared to fall asleep during a press conference following the FIFA Executive Committee meeting last week.
Champagne said: “I think the criticism against Mr Hayatou is atrocious. This man – suffering from a very severe kidney disease – underwent surgery, and in spite of that said ‘I want to save FIFA’.
“His treatment is unfair because the images speak for themselves, but you have to understand what this man is going through.
“I’ll say it here, Mr Hayatou is doing a great job as interim president of FIFA because we need a strong person holding the rudder. This man, in spite of the surgery that he went through, led the reform, led the process to make sure that we didn’t go in crazy directions.”
Champagne has defended the presidential candidates’ links with previous, tarnished FIFA regimes and insisted having one of them in charge would be better than an outsider.
He added: “I understand the scepticism but I think cleaning things up like that is pure hypocrisy because no-one is completely disconnected, no-one is fully independent of anything.
“We have to look at whether someone who’s elected on the 26th [of February], will be able to work on the 27th. We cannot afford to have someone coming from Mars or Venus, spending two years to understanding subtleties, the idiosyncrasies and all the complexities of the issues.”
And Champagne, who worked for FIFA for 11 years before leaving in 2010, says he is the man to lead the organisation going forward.
“I believe the FIFA president has to be someone who knows football – that’s clear,” he said.
“Someone who knows the world and understands its complexity and diversity. Someone who understands the complexity of the relationship between football and a lot of other areas which affect the game like politics, the economy, social issues. But also someone who has knowledge of FIFA, not someone who will spend their years putting FIFA down or trying to diminish their role.
“Someone who has been tested – and I’ve been tested. I was in the top positions for many years and I am proud of that, and I was in a very serious crisis that FIFA went through in 2001 at a time when there was no money.
“And someone who has the ability to lead football to the world and understands the need of the football stakeholders, among which the national FAs are the number one, but also clubs, leagues, players – and I think I have this experience.”