‘Betrayed promises’ cost China a chance to host World Cup, says Fifa candidate Jerome Champagne
Sepp Blatter’s former right-hand man hints tournament could still be taken away from Middle East nation, potentially opening the door for China
Jerome Champagne, the former Fifa insider who is running for president in the upcoming election, claims China could have hosted the 2026 World Cup before “betrayed promises” saw Qatar take Asia’s “turn” in 2022 – but he hinted the Middle East state could still lose the tournament.
The Frenchman, who was disgraced ex-president Sepp Blatter’s right-hand man for 11 years before being fired in 2010, says Blatter’s plan was for 2022 to go to the US and 2026 to Asia. Under Fifa’s rules, a continent currently cannot host twice in a row, meaning it will be 2030 at the earliest before China can bid – if 2022 goes ahead as planned in Qatar.
The controversial award to Qatar helped prompt the current corruption crisis that has engulfed football’s world governing body.
“[Blatter’s plan] was to go to South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014, Russia in 2018, the United States in 2022 and then in 2026 to have a World Cup for Asian federations,” said Champagne.
“We would have had traditional bids like Japan and Korea but we would have had new countries bidding for the World Cup: Indonesia, ... India ... China and that was the goal. All that was changed when some people inside the exco [executive committee] betrayed their promises.”
Champagne is seen as an outsider in the February 26 election against Asian football chief Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa, Jordanian Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino and South African Tokyo Sexwale.
But he insisted he was optimistic his reform agenda could prove popular given the scandals that have dogged football’s governing body.
And he hinted that Qatar could yet lose the 2022 World Cup, potentially opening the door for China to step in.
“China is very important [to world football] not only because of the size of the population and the size of the economy but also because we have seen a huge change [in the attitude towards football],” he added.
“What is very, very important for me is the fact that President Xi [Jinping] has created a clear goal, with creating these schools of football everywhere and with these three objectives: participating in the World Cup, hosting the World Cup and one day winning the World Cup. And that’s my objective because definitely China is important for the strategic future of the game.
“The only problem we have is that World Cup 2022 is going to take place in Qatar, in Asia, and in Fifa there is a rule that a continent cannot bid for two World Cups in a row which means that we can expect that 2026 will go to North America and that Asia and China will be able to bid for the World Cup only in 2030, 34 or 38.
“For me it’s clear China is the future. But for now we need to find a moment when China will be able to bid, that’s very important.
“There are some investigations [about Qatar 2022, so] we will see what will happen. But again I regret that Mr Blatter’s plan was not implemented: you can imagine 2010 South Africa, 2014 Brazil, 2018 Russia, 2022 United States, 2026 China, it would have been an amazing series. But listen, we will see what will happen.
“In a democratic system you have the principle ‘innocent until proven guilty’. And that benefits also the Qatar World Cup. But there are investigations, so let’s see what happens.”
Champagne said he wouldn’t be swayed by potential negative headlines about human rights abuses were China awarded a World Cup. Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers building stadiums has come in for extensive criticism since they were handed the tournament.
“You cannot compare an autocratic regime like Qatar to China,” he said. “China has to face also some issues but definitely it’s a country where the situation is much better, there’s no doubt ... in the case of Qatar it’s about systemic exploitation of poverty.
“But I’m not afraid about the situation in China and I do hope we have the World Cup [there].”