Making the right noises

Jerome Champagne delivers the keynote address at the GIFT Summit in Panjim.-

Jerome Champagne, who will take on the all-powerful Sepp Blatter for the FIFA president’s post, knows his chances are grim. But playing his cards astutely could get him a lot closer than many would bargain for. And in that context, the Frenchman seems to be well on target. By Avinash Nair.

The bubbly Jerome Champagne was easily the toast of the two-day Goa International Football Table (GIFT). The Frenchman, a former deputy Secretary General of the FIFA and a presidential candidate for the 2015 elections, sounded well versed in Indian football and its history and showed a keen interest for its development and growth. The 55-year-old spoke eloquently about the failings that plague Indian football and provided solutions to help India rise from its current lowly FIFA ranking of 152.

Jerome — during his key note address, and later on during the question-and-answer session — repeatedly pointed to the ills which is pulling Indian football down. He spoke about the need for structural growth, which he believes, can only be achieved with the help of all stakeholders.

The Frenchman, who will take on the all-powerful Sepp Blatter for the FIFA president’s post, knows his chances are grim. But playing his cards astutely could get him a lot closer than many would bargain for. And in that context, Jerome seems to be well on target.

His promise to allot more seats for Asia and Africa in the World Cup and cut down on the imbalances in seat-sharing prevalent in FIFA today, has indeed won many hearts for the French diplomat. The legendary Pele too has thrown his weight behind Champagne.

“India had a rich tradition in football. You have the world’s third oldest tournament in the Durand Cup. Mohun Bagan defeated East Yorkshire Regiment in 1911, which was a big fillip to the sport in the country. And in 1962, when India won the football gold in the Jakarta Asian Games there was understandably a lot of excitement. But after the 1960s, there has been a gradual downfall,” he observed.

“It took India a long time to start the National League in 1996, and to establish its own football headquarters in New Delhi in 2005. It is a shame to have just 14 teams in the top tier of club football here. A country like this — with a population of over 1.2 billion — is truly a sleeping giant, which needs to be woken at the earliest.

“For one, the base should be wider. I-League cannot have four teams from Kolkata and four teams from Goa and only six other teams from the rest of the country. Also, it is ridiculous to have just 10 teams in the second tier (I-league 2nd division), when actually it should be much larger than the first division. The regional leagues should be for grassroot development. These are all supposed to be feeders for the bigger leagues. In every footballing nation the pyramid is triangular, but in India it is like a stick.

“China, U.S.A., Indonesia and India comprise 45 percent of the world’s population. China is improving impressively; U.S. and Indonesia too are getting there with a whole lot of youth development programmes. India must follow suit, it cannot miss the bus now.”

Jerome also spoke extensively on the imbalance in world football. “Asia (with 47 countries) and Africa (with 54) have only four and five direct spots in the World Cup respectively. Europe (53 countries), on the other hand, has 13 direct entries. This is not fair; this inequality has to be addressed urgently,” he stated.