x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Can football break Fifa's hold on it?

Saturday's ban on Mohamed bin Hammam just reminds us how many problems FIFA has not cleaned up. But who will protect us from the guardians of football?

The outcome of the two-day hearing was so expected that the man at the middle of the scandal didn't bother turning up for the decision.

On Saturday, Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam, a Fifa executive committee member and president of the Asian Football Federation, was banned from football for life after being found guilty of bribery by the ruling body's ethics committee.

While many expected the outcome, Mr bin Hammam has vowed to appeal. But if Fifa believes this decision will put to rest talk of corruption within its ranks, it is sadly mistaken.

Allegations of dirty dealings within Fifa are legend, and start at the very top. Yet because football's governing body does not fall under any legal jurisdiction, it essentially polices itself. In cases of alleged wrongdoing, only Fifa can investigate Fifa. For an organisation that controls billions in revenue and acts as guardian for the planet's best-loved sport, this seems a recipe for impropriety.

Perhaps it's time then for Fifa to answer to a higher power, political or otherwise, in the same way that countries answer to international bodies on justice. Surely there are ways to limit Fifa's power.

Sponsors have a responsibility in this regard - not to mention an image to protect. Their dollars pay for Fifa's operations, but why would football's tiny cabal change its ways if cash is still flowing? It wouldn't.

Ultimately, though, football's best hope to clean itself up may come from within football itself. While the World Cup remains the sport's premiere competition - and Fifa's quadrennial cash cow - club competitions are more important for most fans. Indeed, there is little doubt that the Uefa Champions League now annually draws the highest quality of football, best players and most sponsorship.

The Union of European Football Associations, as Uefa is formally known, remains loyal to Fifa, but for how long? The fastest way to force Fifa's hand would be for the powerful individual football associations of Europe's top four countries - England, Spain, Italy and Germany - to challenge Fifa's authority, and demand more transparency.

Fifa's lock on global football is tight but not ironclad. Breaking its hold on the sport might be the best way to preserve it.