French FA chief insults Champagne as FIFA race heats up

LONDON: 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.