Monday 19 March 2018

Ex-Fifa president Joao Havelange dies aged 100

Joao Havelange expanded the World Cup from 16 to 32 teams (AP)
Joao Havelange expanded the World Cup from 16 to 32 teams (AP)

Joao Havelange, who as president of Fifa transformed football's governing body into a multibillion-pound business and a hotbed for subsequent corruption that damaged its reputation, has died aged 100.

Havelange, who was suffering from a respiratory infection, died early on Tuesday while Rio de Janeiro was hosting the Olympic Games, according to the Samaritano Hospital.

In 2009, Havelange led off Rio's bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Copenhagen by inviting the members to vote to "join me in celebrating my 100th birthday'" at the 2016 Games in Brazil.

An IOC statement said its thoughts were with Havelange's family, adding: "The IOC has agreed to a request from the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee to allow the Brazilian flag to be flown at half-mast during the day in Olympic venues."

Havelange expanded the World Cup from 16 to 32 teams and made it one of sports' most important events.

He organised six World Cups as Fifa president from 1974 to 1998, when Sepp Blatter replaced him.

Havelange secured lucrative broadcast deals, brought more nations into Fifa and created the women's World Cup.

With more cash for football came widespread allegations of financial wrongdoing by its top officials.

In 2013, Fifa ethics court judge Joachim Eckert said Havelange's conduct had been "morally and ethically reproachable".

Havelange was never punished. He was allowed to resign his honorary presidency of Fifa in 2013.

Prior to that, Havelange resigned in December 2011 as a member of the IOC just days before its leadership was expected to suspend him and rule on claims that he took a one million dollar (£770,000) kickback.

Three of Fifa's most notorious officials - his former son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira, Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner - joined Fifa's executive committee during Havelange's presidency.

All three were subsequently swept up in corruption investigations by Swiss and US authorities last year that also brought the end of Blatter's 17-year presidency.

Havelange was implicated with Teixeira in taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from World Cup broadcasting contracts.

Both left Fifa between 2012 and 2013 to avoid sanctions from the football body's ethics committee.

Teixeira has been indicted by the US Justice Department on corruption charges but has stayed out of reach of American investigators, remaining in Brazil, which typically does not extradite its citizens.

Havelange was cited as a personal hero in football by Blazer, the most senior US official at Fifa and his former executive committee colleague. Blazer's testimony admitting widespread corruption charges was key to the sprawling US investigation implicating Fifa. Blazer is seriously ill and awaiting sentencing.

Warner, a long-time Havelange ally, is also indicted and is fighting extradition to the US from his native Trinidad and Tobago.

Fifa was a small organisation with about a dozen employees when Havelange took over at its Zurich headquarters in 1974.

"I found an old house and US$20 in the kitty," Havelange told Fifa's website. "On the day I departed 24 years later, I left property and contracts worth over US$4 billion. Not too bad, I'd say."

He was re-elected president six times, capitalising on his contact-building across world football.

Fifa's membership expanded by nearly one-third, to more than 200 nations and territories, under Havelange. China was readmitted in 1980 having left the organisation in 1958.

"I clocked 26,000 hours in the air, the equivalent of spending three years in a plane," Havelange said. "The only country I never visited was Afghanistan, because they wouldn't let me in."

The son of a Belgian father and a Brazilian mother, Havelange was a top athlete before becoming a sports administrator. He swam for Brazil at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and played on its water polo team at the Helsinki Games in 1952.

He headed the Brazilian football confederation for nearly two decades, when Brazil's national team won its first three World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

Havelange was the first non-European head of Fifa and its longest serving president, stepping down aged 82.

In a 1999 survey by the IOC, Havelange was voted among the top three sports leaders of the 20th century, behind former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin. He joined the IOC in 1963.

Havelange had a heart pacemaker implanted in 2006. He was in hospital for more than two months, including several weeks in intensive care, in 2012 because of an infection in his right ankle.


Press Association

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