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By ESPN Staff

No Champagne finish as Blatter rival exits FIFA

Sepp Blatter has strengthened his hold on the FIFA presidency after Jerome Champagne, a potential challenger to his position, was forced out of the organisation.

FIFA announced today that Champagne, director of international relations and at one time a staunch Blatter loyalist, has parted company with the governing body.

Senior FIFA figures say there was a prevailing belief that Champagne may have been positioning himself to run for president in next year's election.

Today's announcement underlines Blatter's position of power and makes the likelihood of anyone challenging him next year more remote.

Champagne's fate was effectively sealed before last month's World Cup draw in Cape Town when two Confederation presidents complained to Blatter that he had been over-stepping the mark in his role as director of international relations.

The former French diplomat's relationship with Blatter is believed to have soured in recent months. After initially being named special advisor to the president, he was one of his most trusted supporters during the bitter election contest of 2002, and was rewarded by being made deputy general secretary.But Champagne was known to be unhappy when Blatter chose Jerome Valcke to be general secretary instead in 2007.

Champagne was instead moved to a new position which was an effective demotion but gave him plenty of access to the national associations who make up FIFA. Blatter himself was general secretary of FIFA before he stood for president in 1998.

FIFA officially confirmed the decision as "a joint announcement'' with Champagne, saying: "The FIFA president would like to thank Jerome Champagne for the 11 years he has spent with the organisation as well as for the projects he has overseen during this time.''

Champagne said he wished "to thank Joseph S. Blatter for the real privilege of having been able to serve the world of football over the years, all in the noble cause of helping to build a better world.''

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