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Overhaul needed to stop talent drain: Champagne

China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-04-04 09:26

Soccer has reached the point where it must choose between becoming an elitist sport, dominated by a handful of rich clubs and leagues, or a universal one, according to former FIFA presidential adviser Jerome Champagne.

The Frenchman, who worked in various senior positions including adviser to president Sepp Blatter during 11 years at FIFA, said the sport needed a radical overhaul to help it stop the drain of talent to a few rich European clubs and to help it flourish worldwide.

The former diplomat said that even once-powerful clubs, such as Portugal's Sporting, have become suppliers of players for the major European leagues, while fans in many countries follow England's Premier League more closely than their own championship.

"We tend to misrepresent the game by thinking the game is about the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo," Champagne said.

"In reality, it is about players whose salaries are not paid and clubs who are on the verge of bankruptcy.

"The majority of football is today facing this crisis while the wealthy are becoming wealthier," said Champagne, who has not ruled out running for the FIFA presidency when Blatter's fourth mandate expires in 2015.

"I always quote the example of Sporting Lisbon. They had to sell (Manchester United winger) Nani and (Real Madrid forward) Cristiano Ronaldo to bigger clubs, but just think what they could have achieved if they had stayed a little longer.

"The reality is that for two percent of privileged clubs or competitions, you have 98 percent in the opposite situation.

"Salaries are paid irregularly, when they're paid at all, and that creates a situation where the player is in a weak situation and makes him a possible target for the match-fixing mafia.

"The system has taken us toward an elitist trend which is making football look like basketball, where two or three Western European club competitions could become like the NBA," he said.

Champagne said that while clubs in South America and Africa have long been reduced to the role of suppliers of talent, they had now been joined by the smaller European countries.

"The sucking of players into Europe means that African leagues, and also others, lose their best talents at a younger age," he said.

Bigger gap

"So the local leagues are deprived of their talents, which means fewer people in the stadiums, less money and less interest for local television stations.

"There is more money today in African football than 20 years ago, but the gap with Europe has increased. Before, the feeder continents were South America and Africa, but now this trend of dividing between receivers and providers is inside Europe itself.

"It is clear today that even clubs from countries like France, apart from Paris St Germain, the Netherlands, and Hungary, it's over. These countries are providers."

This led to paradoxes such as fans watching foreign tournaments rather than local ones.

"The local leagues have to sell rights to cable television to make money. Look at a country like Peru, where only a million households have access to cable.

"At the same time, other leagues are broadcast free-to-air because they have made so much money at home that they can sell at a cheaper price, so a young boy of 12 will see more European football than local football."

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