Paddy Power Backs French Footballer to Oust FIFA President

'Team Ginola' Campaign Seeks to End Corruption At Football's Governing Body

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David Ginola
David Ginola

The management of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, has long been controversial, prompting a challenger to step up to run against President Sepp Blatter when he seeks re-election in May.

U.K. bookmaker Paddy Power is backing a bid by former French international soccer player David Ginola, who has put his name forward as a candidate for the presidency and is trying to sign up support from five of FIFA's 209 member federations, the number he needs in order to secure a place on to the ballot.

Mr. Ginola's backer is controversial too; Paddy Power recently offered odds on the verdict in a high-profile murder trial. The bookmaker is partially funding the "Team Ginola" campaign, created by U.K. agency Lucky Generals with M&C Saatchi PR. Mr. Ginola is presented as "rebooting football" and promises to bring "democracy, transparency and equality" to the game.

The idea is to raise $3.5 million through crowdfunding, encouraging fans to make a donation and be part of creating a fresh start at FIFA.

Mr. Ginola started his career in his native France, and then played for various teams in the U.K. Premiere League from 1995 until his retirement in 2002. Always a popular figure, Mr. Ginola was awarded both the "Players' Player of the Year" and soccer writers' "Player of the Year" in 1999. His good looks and lustrous locks won him a contract advertising L'Oreal Elvive in the late 90s.

Mr. Ginola said in a statement, "I believe that I have the credentials and capability to be a strong candidate, a candidate of football fans and lovers of the game from the four corners of the world." He also said at a press conference that he would get FIFA to pay more taxes, claiming that after holding the World Cup in Brazil last year, FIFA but gave nothing back to the country.

The 78-year-old Mr. Blatter has served four terms as FIFA president, starting in 1998, and has worked at the organization since 1975. FIFA has faced multiple accusations of corruption, most recently around the selection process that awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar. Many considered Qatar, which spent lavishly to woo FIFA's executive committee, particularly unsuitable due to the extreme heat World Cup players would face and Qatar's poor treatment of the migrant workers who would build World Cup facilities. An 18-month investigation into possible corruption in the Qatar bidding process ended in November.

And over the years Mr. Blatter has made many controversial statements that have been widely-reported by the media, ranging from the suggestion that Latin American countries would applaud a soccer player for having an extramarital affair to saying that racism could be corrected with a handshake. During a 2014 World Cup meeting, he interrupted a minute of silence in honor of Nelson Mandela after only 11 seconds, and back in 2004 he suggested that female soccer players should wear tight shorts and low-cut shirts to attract male fans.

Despite all this, Mr. Blatter's is tough to oust. He has a great deal of support from football federations in Africa and Asia, where the money FIFA has doled out to local football associations has made a real difference to communities.

A Paddy Power spokesman said in a statement, "David Ginola has the intelligence, character and capability to be president of FIFA. He has the prospect of becoming the first football fans' candidate for the presidency. We are calling on fans globally to mobilize and join Team Ginola. We are all football fans, we care about the game, we love football and we want a truly competitive presidential election."

As well as Mr. Ginola, Mr. Blatter could potentially face competition from Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, a member of the FIFA executive committee, and two former FIFA officials -- Frenchman Jerome Champagne, and Chilean Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who is himself being investigated for his conduct during the World Cup bidding process.

London agency Lucky Generals will be busy with election work. The agency, named , said in a statement, "We're incredibly proud to be part of this campaign. We set up the agency to make a difference and this bid could make a huge, positive impact on something millions of us love." The agency is also in charge of the Labour Party's campaign for the U.K. general election in May.

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