BY KUNLE SOLAJA
CONJOINTLY with the football governing body which he ruled almost with iron fist, Dr. Joao Havelange is celebrating his own jubilee.
Just 13 days to the 112th anniversary of the founding of the world’s football governing body, FIFA, Havelange clocks 100 years today.
He was born in Rio de Janeiro on May 8, 1916 by Belgian immigrant parents who narrowly missed travelling to the America by the ill-fated Titanic.
His full name is Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid Havelange, which in typical Brazilian naming tradition is shortened to Joao Havelange. The birthday is also coming weeks ahead of the Olympic Games in his birth city. As the longest serving IOC member, Havelange played a crucial role in the award of the games to Rio ahead of US city of Chicago which bid was backed by high profile personalities like President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton and Oparah Winfrey.
Havelange was the only non-European to have headed FIFA and his 24 years at the helm was only second to the 33-year tenure of Frenchman, Jules Rimet – the creator of the World Cup competition. Until his resignation in 2011, Havelange, a former Olympic water polo player and swimmer, was the longest serving member of the IOC – having joined in 1963. He resigned on December 1, 2011 when it became clear that he faced sanctions over his involvement in the ISL scandal. A lawyer, Havelange however cited health reasons for his resignation the week before the IOC was to meet over his part in a bribery scandal stemming from his time as the head of football’s world governing body.
At the time, FIFA had refused to investigate the claims but the IOC requested the information from BBC programme Panorama shortly after the programme was broadcast in November 2010.
The IOC Ethics Commission began an inquiry into allegations that Havelange received $1 million (£639 million/€746 million) from ISL, which owned World Cup television rights and collapsed with debts of $300 million (£192 million/€224 million) in 2001.
A two-year suspension, or even possible expulsion, for Havelange was expected to be considered at the IOC Executive Board meeting in Lausanne. Amid corruption allegations three years ago, he resigned his position as honorary president of FIFA. He is the only living of the cabal that ruled international sports from the 1970s. In his class were notables such as Juan Antonio Samaranch, Primo Nebiolo and Horst Dassler among others. Together, these people made international sports, a huge business, measuring their television audiences and their dollar turnovers, not in millions, but in billions. With the activities of the sports barons, most of whom have legal background and often Latin, professional sportsmen are financially speaking, the relative amateurs of modern sports.
The class of Havelange and others were the real professionals. They controlled the distribution of the Olympics, the World Cup and other big time sports events. These men were not just motivated by money; prestige and influence were also at stake. They crave power and often possessed it. Horst Dassler, son of Adi Dassler, the founder of adidas sports brands, was known as the father of sports sponsorship.
He died aged 51 in April 1987. Nebiolo, the highly influential Italian boss of the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) died 17 years ago while Samaranch passed on six years ago leaving only Havelange as the living baron of old. Ordinarily, Havelange’s birthday could have been a gathering of who’s who in sports, business and possibly, politics. His 100th anniversary coincides with the year in which Brazil and his birth city, Rio, host the Olympics. In Copenhagen, in October 2009, following the election of Rio as Olympic city, Havelange remarked: “I invite you to come celebrate my 100 years in Rio in 2016”.
But he appears a loner now in his latter days. No thanks to the indictments he got few years ago as the corruption scandals in FIFA started to unfold. Close allies claimed Havelange had always loved a private life. Walter Lutz, who wrote on Havelange in the April 1998 edition of FIFA Magazine remarked: “Havelange has always been a non-smoker, and the wine glass in front of him always remains full – he only needs it for toasts…At parties or receptions, though he may feel at ease, untroubled and relaxed, he is always the first to leave – discreetly – that is simply his way of doing things, his style.” But could that explain the possible low key 100th birthday anniversary he may celebrate today?
Even Sepp Blatter, the immediate successor who was disgraced out of office last year, appears to have abandoned his former boss who literarily installed him FIFA president ahead of the more favoured Lennart Johansson at the 1998 election. AFP in Switzerland reported that Blatter will not attend the birthday. “I will not be in Rio for … Joao Havelange. Walter Gagg will represent FIFA, “Blatter wrote in an email sent to AFP. Gagg, Swiss Neuchatel former player and current director of FIFA, entered FIFA in 1982 and worked for a long time with Havelange. “I will be the only representative of FIFA,” said Gagg, 73. The 80-year-old Blatter was recruited by Havelange for FIFA in 1975 as director of development programs. Under Havelange, he rose to the position of General Secretary. Early in 1998, Havelange prompted him to contest the position of president which he used his overwhelming influence to make delegates to switch allegiance from Johansson. Blatter reciprocated by installing Havelange as Honorary President. But in an interview four years ago in a Swiss newspaper,Sonntags Blick, Blatter called for the stripping of the honorary presidency from the Brazilian. Havelange was charged in the scandal that followed the collapse of marketing company ISL, whose research showed that millions of dollars were paid in commissions to him and his son, Ricardo Teixeira, former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation. He resigned from his position as honorary president in 2013. But Brazilians are still standing by him. He had represented the country in Olympic Games in Berlin 1936 where he was a swimmer and at Helsinki 1952 where he featured in water polo. The stadium where athletics events of Rio 2016 will be staged is named after him. The Estádio Olímpico João Havelange (Joao Havelange Olympic Stadium) is a multi-use stadium built in 2007. A day after his 97th birthday three years ago, politicians in Rio wanted his name removed from the stadium.
“The name João Havelange is today linked to fraud investigations and scandals at FIFA,” said Renato Cinco, one of the Councillors behind the proposed legislation” one of Olympic-centred website in Rio reported.
“It doesn’t make sense for a city which is going to host the World Cup and Olympic Games have the name of its stadium with this reference.”
But Rio 2016 officials, who have publicly backed Havelange despite the corruption scandal, claimed that it is nothing to do with them the name of the stadium. The Councillors have suggested changing the stadium’s name to João Saldanha, who coached Brazil in the 1970 World Cup qualifying competition.
“The change of name to Joao Saldanha is an attempt to resolve not just a matter of ethics, considering that Joao Havelange is not worthy of this tribute, but also to bring fresh air to this Stadium built on the basis of overblown costs and with structural problems,” said Eliomar Coelho, another Councillor of the authors of the bill.
The organisers of the 2016 Rio Olympics vowed to controversially keep João Havelange’s name on their main stadium despite the former FIFA President being tarnished by the ISL bribery scandal. “Everything he has contributed to the transformation of Brazilian and international sport has served as an example to the IOC (International Olympic Committee),” said Gryner.
“He already paid, he has been punished,” Gryner said. “I have a lot of pride to be associated with João Havelange.” Gryner’s stance is supported by Carlos Nuzman, the President of Rio 2016. Just before the World Cup in France ’98, Havelange gave a summary of his activities over the 24-year tenure as FIFA boss. “I worked 300 days a year for FIFA; that makes a total of 7,200 days. “I took part in 720 meetings of FIFA standing committees. I missed only five. I visited 192 countries at least three times. I spent 800 hours per year on a plane; that make a total of about 20,000 hours. “I flew from Rio to Zurich 12 times a year, which makes a total of 288 Rio-Zurich return flight tickets. I received over 100 honours from all parts of the world. I also became a member of over 100 clubs, association and institutions. “I met, I can safely say, all presidents, king and queens and prime ministers in the world and in addition, His Holiness, the Pope.” To his credit, FIFA experienced a boom when he took over in 1974. He brought his business acumen to bear on the hitherto docile body. In a valedictory interview he granted in 1998, he revealed that FIFA headquarters had just seven staff and the general secretary, his wife and their cat and dog also lived in the same building. “Meetings always had to be held somewhere else. I wanted to get new premises for FIFA but my idea was not accepted at first. “So I made a list of what it cost us to hold these meetings in different places. When I showed it to the bank, they gave me a loan, the interest on which would be exactly what the meetings were costing. “At the end of the 70s, we moved into a new headquarters with about 70 people working there”, said Havelange. The organisation has however moved from that building to a bigger one. He also remarked that prior to his going into FIFA; the body had just two competitions – the World Cup and the football event of the Olympics. He expanded the competitions to eight, introducing three age graded competitions and two for women at the time. “In those days, participating teams had to pay their own travel and accommodation expenses. Now FIFA covers all, including payment for delegates to attend congress and symposia and so on. “Our income from TV rights was about 70 million Francs for the 1978 World Cup; for 2002 it will have climbed to 1.2 billion, and for 2006, it will be up to 1.5 billion.”
The huge financial income he introduced to FIFA may have been the cause of the smear that his image got years after he left office.