x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fifa's business as usual stinks for football fans

Football's international governing body has serious problems, that should not be merely papered over. Allegations surrounding Qatar's World Cup bid suggest that it is time for Fifa to clean out its trash.

Bill Shankly, the late Liverpool manager, once said that in football it's the players and supporters who matter most; club bosses are "only there to sign the cheques".

Today, apparently, it's their job to cash them.

Rife with corruption is how some would describe Fifa, football's global governing body. Rumours of World Cup bid votes traded for cash, gifts - even a knighthood in one case - have long been annoying background noise. This week the murmurs became deafening.

Two senior officials have been suspended since Sunday, and allegations of wrongdoing are flying faster than Lionel Messi's feet at midfield. Fifa vice president Jack Warner and the executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar have been suspended pending an investigation. It's among the worst scandals to hit Fifa in its 107-year history; Qatar's winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup is now stained by the controversy.

Which is not to say that Fifa's operations have been squeaky clean in the past. The BBC's Andrew Jennings blew the whistle on the international football association in 2006 with a book on corruption in the sport. Fifa officials had since vowed to clean up the game, but it's clear those promises were empty.

It's past time for Fifa to clean up its act. When corruption allegations clouded the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, officials for that governing body got down to business and overhauled the International Olympic Committee. Members were fired, terms limits imposed and athletes sanctioned. The stain, damaging as it was, has since been mostly expunged with honest efforts to restore the Olympics' global image.

Fifa should follow a similar blueprint. With billions of dollars in World Cup viewing and hosting rights at stake, fans deserve better.

Perhaps the most farcical point is that elections for Fifa's presidency are expected to continue as planned on Wednesday. Mr bin Hammam had been the only challenger to Mr Blatter. While Mr Blatter has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Fifa ethics committee, his presidency is under a cloud. His quick exoneration raises questions of expediency if nothing else.

Suspending the vote - which almost certainly will not happen - should be the first step. The organisation needs new ethics rules and a new way of doing business. Shankly was right: football is a lucrative trade. But without supporters and players, its bosses would be out of business.