—- Jerome Champagne, the French FIFA presidential candidate, and Noel Le Graet, the French Football Federation (FFF) chief, had a heated exchange in public on Thursday, with Le Graet hurling insults at Champagne before storming out of a restaurant.
Champagne, one of five men bidding to become the next FIFA president, confirmed the details of the row to Reuters.
He said he was meeting Le Graet to gain his vote in next month’s FIFA election in Zurich, when the FFF president will be one of the 209 national presidents deciding the outcome.
Instead of backing his compatriot, the FFF president said he was supporting Swiss UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino in the race to lead world soccer’s scandal-hit governing body.
Champagne said that after he told Le Graet he would protest his decision at the highest political level, the FFF chief stood up, hurled a series of expletives at him, threw money down for the bill and stormed out of the bistro in the centre of Paris.
Champagne told Reuters by telephone on Thursday: “I am confirming that is exactly what happened as reported in the French media today. It happened, people saw it happen.”
Le Graet, who was not immediately available to comment, faces opposition from the French League, clubs and players for his decision to support Infantino.
Following the row, Le Graet sent an email to members of the executive committee of the French FA informing them of his intention to back Infantino, according to FFF sources.
However, his decision to support Infnatino has not met with the approval of other senior sports officials.
Thierry Braillard, the Secretary of State for Sports, and Frederic Thiriez, the president of the French Players’ Union (LFP), have given Champagne their backing, he told Reuters.
Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa and Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain are the other candidates vying for election on Feb. 26.
The FIFA vote follows the end of the mandate of Swiss Sepp Blatter, who has been caught up in the scandal that has engulfed the world body since last May and which has seen the arrests of 41 associated personnel accused of bribery and corruption.
FIFA candidates head to Qatar as Sexwale says ‘time for alliances’
MIAMI | BY SIMON EVANS
Four of the candidates for president of FIFA are heading to Qatar for meetings on Saturday, with one of them, South African Tokyo Sexwale, saying “the time for alliances is coming”.
The development suggests that electoral horse-trading might be about to begin in the battle to replace Sepp Blatter as head of football’s world governing body.
Spokesmen for the frontrunners, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Gianni Infantino, and for Sexwale confirmed to Reuters that they will be in Doha for a game on Saturday and to meet with Asian member associations of FIFA.
A spokesman for Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, also a candidate, later confirmed he would be travelling to Qatar for Saturday’s game – the final of the Asian Football Confederation Under-23 Championship between South Korea and Japan.
The other candidates, Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA deputy general secretary, declined to comment on whether he would also be in Qatar.
Speaking on South Africa’s Metro FM radio on Thursday, Sexwale confirmed that he would also be in Qatar as a “guest of Sheikh Salman” and hinted at eventual support for an Asian candidate.
“The time for alliances is coming. This is the new thing that I am saying. It is healthy, democratic and it is good.
“If I see that Tokyo’s chances are not good … I am still FIFA, but which president would I want? The time for alliances will come,” he said. That time would be before the Feb. 26 vote, he said.
“We are now talking, this one is talking to me, that one is talking to me. But who is talking? We are brothers, we are colleagues, we are comrades in arms,” Sexwale said.
One of the key power brokers in world sport, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fadah Al-Sabah, told Reuters in October that he hoped his ally Sheikh Salman, the Asian football chief, and Infantino, the general secretary of the European football body, UEFA, would strike a deal before the vote.
“I hope there will not be a difficult situation, I hope there will be a coordination and we will find a solution,” he said. Both Salman and Infantino have denied any deal is in place.
Sexwale declined to discuss directly whether he would withdraw from the election but said he wanted to see an African or an Asian become the next president.
“There is this desperation of ‘withdraw’, ‘withdraw’. In whose interest?” he asked.
“Let me tell you my strategy … what is the bottom line? It is not Tokyo Sexwale,” he said. “The bottom line for me, and I am appealing to Europe, to European voters, with the support of Europe let’s have an Asian or African president. That is the bottom line.”
Sexwale’s campaign has been criticised by his own South African Football Federation. Although it stated its support for him this week, the group said his bid had been “low key” and asked him to “come and explain himself”.
The South African, who was imprisoned in Robben Island during apartheid and was a close friend of Nelson Mandela, suggested Infantino would not be the right choice, as another Swiss following Blatter, who has been president since 1998.
“He is my friend, he is a buddy, but I would say maybe we should not replace Blatter with another Swiss,” he said.
Blatter and Michel Platini, who had been a strong favourite to succeed him, were banned over a payment of two million Swiss francs ($2 million) FIFA made to Platini with Blatter’s approval in 2011 for work done a decade earlier.