By Mike Collett
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 26 (Reuters) - FIFA has been vilified for making so many bad decisions for so long that if soccer's world governing body had got it wrong over Uruguay striker Luis Suarez its tarnished image could have been damaged beyond repair.
It is no exaggeration to suggest FIFA would have become a global laughing stock if it had allowed Suarez to escape with a minor punishment - or one perceived to be too lenient - after he bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder at the World Cup on Tuesday.
FIFA and its ageing president Sepp Blatter have made serious errors in the past, with a succession of corrupt men having sat on its governing Executive Committee for years.
It has admitted making mistakes in the voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and will no doubt make more blunders in the future.
Those errors have been making headlines around the world for years, but they did not make a mistake on Suarez.
The striker's bite on Chiellini during Uruguay's 1-0 group stage win in Natal caused global revulsion reflected by coverage in traditional media like newspapers, television and radio.
The shock was fuelled by billions of posts on social media.
So this was not something FIFA could furtively hide behind a stack of brown envelopes or move quietly into a Swiss bank account or create a Task Force to discuss for months then quietly shelve.
The world was waiting for an answer and, despite cries of anguish from Uruguayans who feel slighted, FIFA gave the right one.
By kicking Suarez out of the World Cup, out of football altogether for four months, banning him from Uruguay's next nine competitive matches and imposing a substantial 100,000 Swiss francs ($111,000) fine on him they have moved to protect the integrity of the game.
FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland, a member of FIFA's executive committee, was pleased with the decision taken by the disciplinary committee.
"I think the punishment handed out by FIFA to Luis Suarez is fully justified. Hopefully, he will realise now that behaviour of this type will not be tolerated under any circumstances."
What FIFA needs to do now is go further.
Its Disciplinary Code spells out punishments for all sorts of misdemeanours, including an automatic six-match ban for spitting at an opponent which was introduced after the unsavoury incident in the 1990 World Cup when Dutchman Frank Rijkaard spat at Rudi Voeller of West Germany.
There are currently no sanctions for biting in the rule book but, seeing as Suarez has now bitten three opponents in his career, perhaps the time has come to include one.
The one slightly controversial aspect of FIFA's tough stance is the four-month ban which cuts into the start of the next domestic and European season and hugely affects his English club side Liverpool.
Unless any appeal reduces that punishment, Suarez will miss Liverpool's first nine Premier League matches and their first three Champions League group stage matches - half of the opening stage.
Liverpool might feel they have been hard done by to lose their most important player for all those games, but FIFA, as the guardians of the game, has a duty of care for every player under its jurisdiction.
There have been sugestions that Suarez is a danger to other players and should not be allowed to return to action until he has undergone some kind of psychological treatment because the threat he poses now to his opponents is more than just one of sporting rivalry played out within the laws of the game.
Former Brazil great Ronaldo showed little sympathy for Suarez on Thursday and told reporters in Rio that the 27-year-old Uruguay striker deserved his punishment.
"Football must set an example, he said.
"People who are out of line must be punished. If my little children bite me, they are sent to the dark room with the big bad wolf. This is football's equivalent."
FIFA has sent Suarez to the dark room for a long time - and for that everyone should applaud them. (Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris)