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AP Interview: Would-be FIFA president Jerome Champagne won't stand aside for Sepp Blatter

French former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne ponders a question during an interview with the Associated Press in Paris, Thursday, May 29, 2014. Jerome Champagne is one of the front-runners to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2015 and refused to accept that hoping to unseat Blatter, his former boss, was a lost cause. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

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French former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne ponders a question during an interview with the Associated Press in Paris, Thursday, May 29, 2014. Jerome Champagne is one of the front-runners to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2015 and refused to accept that hoping to unseat Blatter, his former boss, was a lost cause. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS - The only declared candidate for the FIFA presidency says he won't step aside when Sepp Blatter announces next month that he'll be seeking a fifth term.

In an interview with The Associated Press, former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne wouldn't accept that campaigning to unseat Blatter, his former boss, is a lost cause. Blatter is in his 39th year at football's governing body, the last 16 of them as president, and there are no indications of widespread hunger for change from FIFA's 209 member federations who have benefited from billions of World Cup dollars.

"An election is an election," said Champagne, a French former diplomat and now football consultant. "Don't ask me to tell you now what will be the end result. I leave that to the pundits and I leave that to the journalists. But it's not a problem. You know we have seen a lot of underdogs and outsiders also sometimes winning."

In 2011, Blatter was re-elected as the only candidate for another four-year term. On Friday, Blatter confirmed in a FIFA.com interview that he will tell FIFA's annual assembly in Sao Paulo, Brazil, before the June 12 World Cup kick-off that he is ready to stay on as president — despite pledging previously in 2011 that he wouldn't.

"A mission is never finished. I'm available to go on with this mission, and I will announce it to the Congress that I'm available," Blatter said.

Champagne, who spoke to the AP before release of those comments, said Blatter standing again won't cause him to bow out of the May 2015 ballot. Blatter will be aged 79; Champagne will be 56.

"I will continue defending my ideas. I'm not stopping, because we need a debate," Champagne said. "In a democratic system we need more than one candidate and I hope more than two candidates, because we need different points of views and we need two different options given to the voters."

"If in the future there is other candidate(s) than me — so far I'm the only one — I will welcome that."

UEFA president Michel Platini has also long been talked about as another potential challenger to Blatter. Platini has said he will consult UEFA's 54 members later this year before announcing his intentions. But his predecessor, UEFA honorary president Lennart Johansson, said this month he now thinks it unlikely that Platini will stand this time.

Some of Champagne's proposals for football differ notably from positions staked out by Blatter. For instance, Champagne wants referees to be able to use video replays in offside and penalty decisions. Blatter doesn't advocate video refereeing and only belatedly converted to the use of goal-line technology, to be deployed in Brazil for the first time at a World Cup.

Champagne argues that the economics of football are becoming unbalanced, with too much money going to too few elite clubs, making the sport less competitive and compelling. He also says FIFA must act and reform to restore its reputation, damaged by repeated bribery scandals and widespread doubts about the integrity of awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

"A lot of things which have been said (are) not correct and unfair. But as we say in the English world: perception is reality. And we have to tackle this issue," Champagne said. A presidential campaign with open debate, he said, "will be a step in reconciling FIFA with the people of football."

He said one reason he's campaigning is because "it hurt me many times when I saw FIFA painted negatively" and because he hasn't been tarnished by scandal himself. He said he is funding his own campaign and has the minimum five endorsements from FIFA member federations needed to stand.

"I've no allegations on me. I call upon all the journalists to investigate my past," he said.

But Champagne also sounds at times more of a Blatter cheerleader than a committed opponent. If Blatter wins next May 29, Champagne's candidacy might allow FIFA's president to argue that his re-election wasn't a coronation like in 2011, when he got 186 of 203 votes.

Champagne said he is "proud" of the 11 years he worked under the FIFA president from 1999 to 2010, when he was forced out under pressure from Blatter's executive committee. Champagne also stated: "Mr. Blatter is not corrupt."

"It's not a fight about persons, it's about ideas, visions, programs and people of football will decide," he said. "We need a debate, we need a healthy debate. We don't need a confrontational debate."

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Follow John Leicester at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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