ZURICH (AP) — Michel Platini wants politics to play a lesser role at FIFA if he is elected its next president.
Platini is the front-runner to replace Sepp Blatter in February, and said that with him in command, FIFA would be only about football, not political deal-making.
"We have to care about the game, not politics," Platini told The Associated Press on Thursday, just a few hours before the start of FIFA's executive committee in Zurich. "With me, there won't be politics. With me, it's about football, not politics."
However, Platini's critics have often accused the Frenchman of putting politics before football, especially when he voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup weeks after meeting with then-France President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Platini acknowledged that he "might have told" American officials that he would vote for the rival United States bid. However, he changed his mind after the November 2010 meeting, hosted by Sarkozy at his official residence in Paris and also attended by senior Qatari officials. Platini said it was not anything prearranged.
"Sarkozy never asked me to vote for Qatar, but I knew what would be good," he said, smiling.
As the FIFA presidential election campaign picks up pace, Platini's former ally Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan has openly criticized "political deal-making" within FIFA. It was an apparent reference to agreements by Asian football leaders to support Platini in the Feb. 26 ballot.
Platini also said one of the goals of the next president is to "restore the image of FIFA" and make sure it's free of corruption going forward.
"A good FIFA is like a good referee, nobody speaks about it," he said.
He said FIFA has done a lot of good to develop the game and to transform football, and stressed the importance of clearing the governing body from corruption so it can continue work to improve the game.
"There are a lot of good people in the executive committee," Platini said. "It's just some that are corrupt. If you do something wrong, you will be taken care of."
He talked about the absence in Zurich this week of some executive members, such as Brazilian federation president Marco Polo Del Nero.
Del Nero left Switzerland suddenly in May after other officials were arrested in dawn raids on FIFA's favorite hotel in Zurich, and has not traveled outside of Brazil to avoid the risk of being arrested as part of the current U.S. and Swiss investigations of corruption implicating soccer officials and FIFA.
"It's not the first time a member doesn't come," Platini said. "Of course, we are in a strange situation at the moment, otherwise there wouldn't be so many journalists here."