Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Champagne has sparkle but some of his plans lack fizz

Former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne
Former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne

Errol Sweeney

With little or no fanfare, Frenchman Jerome Champagne announced on Monday last his intention to run for the FIFA presidency in 2015. The post is currently occupied by the enigmatic and sometimes secretive Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter.

The obvious question on everyone's lips is: can he defeat the incumbent? Mr Blatter who will be 78 in March this year has not yet indicated whether he will seek a fifth term in charge of the world controlling body.

Michel Platini, the current UEFA chief, is also being bandied around as a possible successor to Blatter although he also has not yet declared his intentions

Jerome is a former deputy secretary general of FIFA and occupied this position for five years before leaving to take up other duties as a consultant.

I first met Jerome at a football conference in South Africa last year and was struck by his vision, passion, and forward thinking for the game. He has been endorsed by none other than arguably the greatest player of all time, Pele.

Mr Champagne has some great ideas for the future of the game including refereeing and we spent a lot of spare time in South Africa discussing and arguing (I use the word arguing is a very mild way) about the love of my sporting life – refereeing.

On many issues we agreed to disagree and while I wouldn't accept some of his thoughts on match officialdom, I admired him for his forethought and willingness to listen and debate.

Some of Jerome Champagne's proposals for improving refereeing include the following six.

'Orange' card

The use of 'orange cards' would be similar to the situation in rugby whereby a player would serve some time in the 'sin bin'. Unlike rugby, where the player has to sit it out for 10 minutes, Jerome says soccer's version could be for two or three minutes at a time.

I disagreed with Jerome on this one for the following reasons.

Players already have two official cards – yellow and red. They can also receive a 'talking to' and an official warning before receiving one of the two aforementioned cards. Why in heaven's name do we want another card?

There is also the issue that orange is a bit close to yellow and might cause some confusion. If after all existing warnings the player hasn't got the message, then he/she never will.

Only captains can approach the referee

This one I have no problem with so long as it doesn't become a debating society and the captain, having received the referee's reason, leaves it at that, like they do in rugby. I'm not a negative person generally, but somehow I can't see this one getting off the ground. If it was to be put in the Laws of the Game (LOTG) and enforced then it probably would work.

Reintroducing the 10-yard rule

This was used for a few years in the mid-2000s and eventually scrapped by FIFA. Why, I don't know. I thought it was a good deterrent. It is still being used in gaelic and rugby today. If it works for them, why can't it work for us?

Abolishing the 'triple' punishment

This occurs when a player prevents a goalscoring opportunity, concedes a penalty kick, is red-carded and also suspended.

I would also disagree with my friend on this one. It is my opinion that managers and players will do what they can to get a win and will pursue every avenue to gain those vital three points for their team. If that means shirt pulling, tripping or cynical tackling to achieve their objective then that's what they'll do. I wouldn't change this one at all.

Punish teams when their players aggressively question officials

I would certainly agree with this one. It's appalling to see players

crowding around the referee when a decision goes against them. The sight of match officials under verbal, and sometimes physical, attack is not acceptable and anything that will improve this situation has to be welcomed.

Use more technology for key decisions

Again I would have problems with this. Referees currently have ear-pieces whereby they can speak to one another without the delay of running to the line to consult with their assistants. This can lead to a rise in tension and also a delay in getting the game restarted. Referees also have a watch device on their arm which will indicate whether the ball has wholly crossed the goal line and whether a goal has been scored or not.

It surely takes no more than 30 seconds to seek clarity on a matter of controversy and that 30 seconds would inevitably lead to a decrease in tension among players and spectators alike.

Jerome Champagne is not only a man of vision and commitment, he has fresh ideas for the game as a whole and deserves the support of everyone to bring change to the beautiful game.

He will bring a breath of fresh air into the stuffy halls of the FIFA headquarters in Zurich which many believe is long overdue.

Errol Sweeney is a former League of Ireland and South African Premier League referee

Irish Independent

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