By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Jerome Champagne launched his bid to stand for the FIFA presidency on Monday but immediately undermined his campaign by saying he did not think he could beat Sepp Blatter should the Swiss incumbent stand for re-election.
Frenchman Champagne, 55, a former diplomat, worked at FIFA for 11 years from 1999 and is a former deputy Secretary General of world soccer's governing body.
At a packed London news conference he confirmed his plans to stand for the most influential job in soccer, with a program of reform aimed at limiting the influence of the richer sections of the game.
However, after outlining details of his policy ideas and setting the ball rolling for a potential 15-month campaign, he was left stalled on the grid when he admitted he would probably not beat Blatter and might not even stand should his former boss attempt to hold on to power.
Asked if he could beat Blatter, who hinted last week that he would stand again, Champagne said: "No I don't think so, he's someone of relevance. I don't know whether Mr. Blatter will run or not. Of course as a matter of politeness I informed him what I was planning to do."
Blatter, who turns 78 in March, may well bid for a fifth term of office while there could also be a challenge by UEFA president Michel Platini for the role second only to the presidency of the International Olympic Committee in global sporting importance.
Champagne, little known to fans and those outside FIFA and diplomatic circles but a long-time colleague of Blatter, added that he would decide whether to maintain his self-funded campaign if his former boss decided to stand again.
His surprise declarations undermined a generally accomplished performance at the site where the English FA, the world's oldest, was founded in 1863.
The Frenchman had ended months of speculation by declaring his bid on a platform of reform based on his far-reaching 20,000-word document "What FIFA for the 21st century ?" published in 2012.
He said his election slogans: "Hope for Football, Hope for All" and "Re-Balance the Game in a Globalised 21st Century" emphasize his message of curbing the polarization of the game into pockets of elite clubs in Europe's richest leagues.
Looking ahead to a leadership battle he said: "I would welcome a live debate early next year with whoever else is standing, in front of the congresses of the six confederations.
"I would also welcome a TV debate so that not only would the football associations know what my program is but it would also be transparent for fans as well."
A video message of support from Pele was his first major publicity coup, but even that was somewhat undermined by technical glitches that caused the broadcast to repeatedly cut out.
In an interview with Reuters, Champagne said he was advocating four major changes to modernize the organization: "It needs to be more transparent and more in tune with the modern world.
"We need to redress the imbalances in the world game, we need to make FIFA's executive committee more democratic and transparent, we need to introduce technology to assist the referee and his assistants and we need to better handle the globalization of the sport.
"At the very least I want to open up the debate so these issues are examined properly," he added.
Since leaving FIFA in 2010 after being forced out by political infighting that, for once, he was powerless to stop, Champagne has been working as an international soccer consultant in troubled regions such as Kosovo, Palestine, Israel and Cyprus.
Although he is outside FIFA he says he is eligible to stand for the presidency as he has the backing of at least five FAs and has been active in the game for at least two of the last five years.
"I am very active in football, working on a daily basis," he told Reuters.
Blatter, who will be 78 in March, has been president since 1998 and was close to Champagne during his time at FIFA. Blatter has not yet confirmed whether he is standing for a fifth term but hinted last week that he would when saying he was not yet "too tired" to continue.
Champagne was at FIFA during many of Blatter's woes but was forced out of the organization after political infighting six months before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Blatter is only the eighth president in the organization's 110-year history.
(Editing by Mitch Phillips/Ed Osmond)