Column: Blatter's departure is a start, but not a revolution

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Posted: Jun 02, 2015 4:54 PM
Column: Blatter's departure is a start, but not a revolution

PARIS (AP) — "I only want to do the best for football," said the sport's most disliked man. Yeah, yeah, Sepp Blatter. Heard that one before. It was only when he then said he would be quitting as president of FIFA that Blatter's supposed good intentions for soccer could finally be believed.

But Blatter leaving the soccer governing body whose reputation, credibility and effectiveness he helped destroy by allowing corruption and cronyism to fester around him is only one step. Many more will have to be taken before the so-called "beautiful game" actually gets the leadership that name deserves.

If one soccer insider in a suit, Blatter, now gets replaced by another, then that won't be the root-and-branch change soccer needs at the top. Only from the ashes of a complete top-to-bottom cleanout, with all new faces at FIFA, can trust hope to rise like a phoenix.

Think about the glint in the eyes of children when they gush about the soccer stars they love and the goals they score. The game's leaders must be equally pure.

So forget Michel Platini, president of European soccer's governing body, as a potential post-Blatter reformer. Platini could have stood against Blatter in the election that just last week put the 79-year-old back in power for what was expected to be another four years. But Platini chose not to.

Only after Blatter's world started collapsing, with anti-corruption investigations in the United States and Switzerland eventually making his position untenable, did Platini finally rebel, openly demanding the FIFA president's resignation. These are hallmarks of a fence-sitter, of a flipper and flopper in changing winds. That's not want football needs now.

Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan isn't football's Eliot Ness, either. He did get 73 votes as Blatter's lone challenger last week. But that doesn't make him an untouchable. The fact that really counts is that he was a FIFA vice president, representing Asia, from 2011, just as Platini still is. Neither has been named in the Swiss or U.S. investigations. But as FIFA bigwigs, they and everyone else on Blatter's executive committee were still part of the culture where football leaders have come to be treated as royalty, staying in the finest hotels, chauffeured in limousines. A world away, in short, from everyone who spends their weekends out on soccer fields, coaching kids, officiating matches, playing, cheering from the stands — the real beating hearts of this much-loved sport.

So now the emperor has announced his own fall, revolution must follow. After Blatter said he will go after new elections expected sometime between December and March, FIFA wheeled out another suit, Domenico Scala, who promised "fundamental changes." ''Nothing will be off the table," said the chairman of FIFA's grandiose-sounding audit and compliance committee.

But proposed reforms Scala cited — term limits and integrity checks for FIFA executives; publicizing how much they are paid — are hardly "fundamental." That is just more tinkering around the edges and already long overdue. You want fundamental? Show FIFA executives the exit door. Neither Blatter nor Scala took questions. So much for transparency.

So, time to switch gears completely. Concretely, that means turning to people outside FIFA, people whose feet haven't been dirtied by treading soccer's corridors of power and sitting in meetings with some of those officials now in custody, suspected of leeching off millions.

David Beckham might be good. So might Zinedine Zidane. Those great former players have made plenty of money from soccer already, so perhaps they'd be immune to bribes. Unfortunately, neither of them has put up their hand or even expressed an interest in leading football out of the quagmire. But it is high time that they and other players, past and present, did. Loudly and in large numbers.

Luis Figo is a more plausible possibility. When he pulled out of last week's FIFA vote, denouncing the process as "anything but an election," the ex-Real Madrid and Portugal star said he would think again "whenever it is proven to me that we are not living under a dictatorship."

Well, that time is coming. The players, representing us, the people, must march on FIFA headquarters, bang down the door and win us back our game. Because FIFA can't be trusted to change from within.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester@ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester