Joao Havelange, the divisive former president of world football’s governing body Fifa, has died today (Tuesday) at the age of 100.
The Brazilian official became the first non-European president of Fifa when elected in 1974 and while he was credited with modernising the organisation, Havelange was also criticised as introducing a culture of corruption that plagued Fifa long after his tenure. Havelange, who was suffering from a respiratory infection, died today in Rio de Janeiro, according to the city’s Samaritano Hospital.
Havelange served as Fifa president from 1974 to 1998, when he was succeeded by Sepp Blatter. During this time, he expanded the World Cup from 16 to 32 teams, boosted Fifa’s membership by nearly one-third to more than 200 nations and territories, and created the Women’s World Cup.
His tenure also saw Fifa transformed into a multi-billion-dollar business and with it came financial wrongdoing by its top officials. Indeed, in 2013, Fifa ethics court judge Joachim Eckert said Havelange’s conduct had been “morally and ethically reproachable.” However, Havelange was never punished and was instead allowed to resign his honorary presidency of Fifa in 2013.
Havelange and ex-Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ricardo Teixeira were in July 2012 officially named as the figures at the centre of the ISL bribery scandal. Fifa’s former marketing partner collapsed in 2001, an episode that sparked a criminal investigation and exposed the practice of it buying influence from leading sports officials in return for handing the company lucrative World Cup broadcast and sponsorship rights during the 1990s.
A Swiss court dossier stated that Havelange received a payment of CHF1.5m (€1.39m/$1.52m) in 1997. The dossier added that payments “attributed” to the two influential Brazilian sports officials came to almost CHF22m between 1992 and 2000. The Swiss prosecutors report detailed that the duo were investigated for “embezzlement, or alternatively disloyal management”. The document was released in July 2012 having been barred from publication since June 2010, shortly after a settlement was reached between prosecutors, Fifa, Havelange and Teixeira to close the criminal investigation into the scandal.
Havelange also served as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 1963 until December 2011, when he resigned just days before its leadership was expected to suspend him and rule on allegations that he took a $1m bribe. In 2009, Havelange commenced the presentation to the IOC by Rio’s bid committee for the 2016 Olympics by inviting members to vote to “join me in celebrating my 100th birthday” at the ongoing Games in Brazil.
Indeed, the Engenhao stadium, a venue for athletics and football at Rio 2016, is named after Havelange. In a statement reported by the Associated Press news agency today, the IOC said: “The IOC has agreed to a request from the Rio 2016 Organising Committee to allow the Brazilian flag to be flown at half-mast during the day in Olympic venues.”
Havelange also swam for Brazil at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and played on its water polo team at the Helsinki Games in 1952. He led the CBF for nearly two decades, a period in which Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970.