China 'must bid for World Cup'
Fifa presidential hopeful Jerome Champagne says mainland needs to organise high-profile tournaments to fast-track development of players
China must successfully bid for a World Cup and host Fifa club and youth tournaments to fast-track football's development, according to a former French diplomat seeking to unseat Sepp Blatter as Fifa president.
Jerome Champagne, who intends to run against Blatter in next May's election, said China must be at the forefront of any future Fifa strategy to develop the sport globally.
Champagne said the China Football Association should restructure based on Germany's model that proved successful at the World Cup in Brazil - initiated after their dismal failure at Euro 2000.
"The objective must be for China to bid for the World Cup," said the 56-year-old Frenchman who served for 17 years as a diplomat before joining Fifa as an international relations adviser to Blatter. "Bidding for the World Cup and hosting it is a huge speeding-up process for the development of the sport," said Champagne (pictured).
"Look at what happened in the US when the World Cup was organised there for 1994.
"China should also think about hosting Fifa youth competitions. They have organised the women's World Cup and the Olympic football tournaments but bidding for a World Cup under-17 or under-20 tournament would be a good thing - for China and for Fifa."
Champagne, who quit the world governing body in 2010 after 11 years' service, said President Xi Jinping had issued a directive to the China Football Association that the country should host the World Cup, participate regularly in the final rounds of the World Cup, and one day win the World Cup.
Yet while football is the most popular sport in China, with large television audiences for World Cups and European leagues generating huge revenue for broadcasters, the men's national team are far from world class.
While the women's national team are ranked 13th in the world, and have previously been World Cup and Olympic runners-up, their male counterparts are 94th in Fifa's rankings.
That places China behind Cape Verde Islands (75), Estonia (92) and Palestine (85). China qualified only once for the World Cup finals - in 2002 - when they failed to win or score a goal.
Champagne said China had been failed by Fifa development programmes that were inadequate to support a country with its size and population.
"The tools Fifa has for the development of football in a country cannot function in a continent like China," he said.
"We need to work more on the grass roots and structure along the lines of what has been done in Germany, where the pyramid goes from the top, the pro league to the bottom," he said.
"It is not a non-Asian arrogance helping the Asians. It is about understanding the idiosyncrasies, the needs, but also bringing the experience and to transfer the know-how."
Champagne acknowledged corruption was a major obstacle in making football a legitimate force in China.
Despite purges to rid the game of corrupt players, referees and officials, the game is still tainted by scandal. Last weekend, reports claimed 10 referees who have officiated in the top-tier Chinese Super League, China League One and third-tier Yi League are under investigation for match-fixing.
"The fight against corruption is a central element of Chinese politics and policies," said Champagne. "The situation has improved. The negative role of money in football is a worldwide problem.
"People tend to always have a prejudice toward some continents whether it is Africa or South America or Asia but there are a lot of cases of corruption in Europe. The official policy of the government of China is to strip corruption out of the system and football will benefit as well from this new orientation."
Fifa, according to Champagne, is similar to many international organisations in its world view, but he said it was time to rebalance the body's powerbase from Europe and South America to be more representative of membership.
"There was a time when the G7 countries believed they could run the world and now we have the G20," Champagne said. "It is the same evolution."
Fifa's presidential election is next May with incumbent Blatter, who has held the top job since 1998, hoping to avoid damage from claims about corruption within his organisation.
Does Champagne have a chance to overthrow him?
"I am the only candidate so far," he said. "I am not the kind of guy who brags but a lot of things can happen."