Filed under: Joao Havelange, Uncategorized | Tags: 2016 Summer Olympics, Alan Rothenberg, Berlin Olympics, Boris Yeltsin, China, Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange, FIFA, FIFA Women's World Cup, Helsinki Olympics, Ian Thomsen, International Olympic Committee, Joao Havelange, Judge Joachim Eckert, King Fahd, Las Vegas Convention Center, MasterCard International, Michel Platini, New York Cosmos, New York Times, North American Soccer League, Pele, Pope John Paul II, Ricardo Teixeira, Rio de Janeiro, Samaritano Hospital, Sepp Blatter, Sir Stanley Rous, South Africa, U.S. Justice Department, U.S. Soccer Federation, United Nations, Zurich
Joao Havelange, who as president of FIFA from 1974 to 1998 transformed the world soccer governing body into a moneymaking behemoth and in turn a breeding ground for corruption that ostensibly has peaked in recent years, has died. He was 100.
The imposing Brazilian died at Rio de Janeiro’s Samaritano Hospital from a respiratory infection as the 2016 Summer Olympics track and field competition began at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. It was Havelange who in 2009 led Rio’s bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee, and he invited the members to “join me in celebrating my 100th birthday” at the 28th Olympiad he correctly believed would be held in Brazil.
Havelange the athlete made his mark not in soccer but aquatics, swimming for Brazil at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and playing water polo at the 1952 Helsinki Games. An imposing figure, he swam every morning before breakfast well into his 90s.
Havelange had been in charge of Brazil’s soccer federation for nearly two decades when he upset the status quo in international soccer by defeating incumbent Sir Stanley Rous of England in the 1974 election to become the first non-European to take the FIFA helm. He wasted little time in transforming FIFA from a sleepy administrative organization in Zurich into a worldwide juggernaut. As he put it, in his familiar deep-throated croat, perhaps in French, perhaps in his native Portuguese, “I found an old house and $20 in the kitty. On the day I departed 24 years later, I left property and contracts worth over $4 billion. Not too bad, I’d say.”
On his watch, FIFA membership expanded by a third, to more than 200 nations and territories–more than that of the United Nations. Among the additions was China, which left FIFA in 1958 but was coaxed back 22 years later, and South Africa, which was suspended from 1964 to 1976 but would go on to host the 2010 World Cup. But it was the minnows of the soccer-playing world that made Havelange’s long rule possible. The Brazilian saw that the end of colonial rule had created scores of new nation-states, and under FIFA’s one-member, one-vote statute, Fiji had as much clout as England or Italy. Adding members, no matter their status on the playing field, and sharing FIFA’s increasing largesse with them all but guaranteed his unprecedented five re-elections as president.
Havelange also gave those minnows a shot at international experience and dreams–however faint–of international glory. Quickly recognizing the power of television and the untapped potential of sponsorships, he expanded the World Cup from a stingy 16 nations to 24 and finally 32, and he created world championships for under-20s and under-17s. He also introduced the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and later the women’s under-20 championship.
This rapid expansion and transformation of world soccer from a relatively naive enterprise that missed any and all commercial opportunities into a $250-billion-a-year industry threw open the doors to corruption that has only been slowed by an aggressive probe by the U.S. Justice Department that has left an indelible stain on Havelange’s legacy. Havelange, who accepted no salary as FIFA president, enriched himself with kickbacks, and soccer officials worldwide eventually followed his lead–if they hadn’t already begun the practice. Among them were scores who have been recently indicted by the Feds. Havelange’s successor and loyal No. 2, Sepp Blatter, has not been ensnarled as yet, but he was banned from FIFA for eight years by its ethics committee in late 2015, six months after winning a fifth term as president. The suspension stemmed from his $2 million off-the-books payment in 2011 to former star player Michel Platini, the UEFA chief who had hoped to defeat Blatter in his bid for a fourth term that year but who dropped out of the race.
Havelange’s most spectacular take, shared by his then-son-in-law, onetime Brazilian soccer president Ricardo Teixeira, was nearly $22 million over nine years beginning in 1992 paid him by the body in charge of FIFA’s marketing and commercial rights, ISL, which filed for bankruptcy in 2001. Havelange and Teixeira ultimately paid back $6.1 million in a confidential settlement.
Havelange resigned in 2011 as a member of the IOC just days before its leadership was expected to suspend him and rule on claims that he accepted a $1 million kickback. That ended, after 48 years, his tenure as the committee’s longest-serving member. Two years later, facing suspension, he stepped down as honorary president of FIFA after FIFA ethics Judge Joachim Eckert called his conduct “morally and ethically reproachable” for accepting kickbacks from ISL. [August 16]
Comment: Heading into USA ’94, Americans had known little of the power of the World Cup and the power of soccer outside this country in general. On the eve of the 15th World Cup in their own backyard, they got an eye full of all that, along with the man behind it, Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid de Havelange.
Ian Thomsen of the New York Times, reporting in December 1993 from the Las Vegas Convention Center, site of the 1994 World Cup draw:
Two hours before the globally televised presentation of the World Cup Final Draw, the soccer player whose work had largely made the ceremony possible still had not been told that he had been banned from appearing on stage.
“I don’t have any official word yet,” Pele said Sunday morning at a breakfast hosted by MasterCard International, an official World Cup sponsor which said Pele would continue to be its worldwide representative despite the controversy.
“All I know is that they said the names of the players appearing in the draw and I was not there,” Pele said.
The decision to bar Pele from the ceremonies had been made by his fellow Brazilian, Joao Havelange, the president of FIFA. The reason: a dispute between Pele and Havelange’s son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian soccer federation.
Pele has charged that a group with which he is affiliated bid $5 million for the rights to televise Brazilian league games, but that a rival group was awarded the contract, despite bidding $1 million less, because the Pele group refused to pay a bribe to Teixeira.
Teixeira responded by filing a defamation suit against Pele. Havelange, over the objections of FIFA’s general secretary, Joseph Blatter, and other officials of the sport’s governing body, then entered the dispute and ordered Pele removed from Sunday’s ceremony because he didn’t want to share the World Cup stage with Pele. He even refused to mention Pele by name at a news conference.
Members of FIFA and the World Cup Organizing Committee were unable to alter Havelange’s decision, which reportedly was made without discussion with either organization.
“FIFA has to respect the wishes of its president,” FIFA spokesman Guido Tognoni said. “I can’t add more.”
U.S. officials said Alan Rothenberg, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation and chairman of the World Cup USA 1994 organizing committee, was livid over the decision to exclude the only household name in American soccer from the grandest ceremony in American soccer history.
Havelange then rebuked Rothenberg.
“Mr. Rothenberg would be disappointed if we withdrew the World Cup,” Havelange said. “Mr. Rothenberg has everything he wants. Nothing will be missing. The absence of one person is not going to affect the World Cup draw. Persons who don’t participate are not important.”
Pele said he would be in the audience of 3,500 at the Las Vegas Convention Center to see the group assignments of the 24 finalists drawn by movie stars, entertainers and star athletes–everyone but the world’s greatest player.
“His son-in-law, with the secretary of the Brazilian federation–they proposed to me something which I do not accept,” Pele said. “I do not accept corruption. You know the problems of Brazil. Corruption is a big problem here. What I want to make clear is, my problem is with the Brazil federation. I don’t accept their proposal for corruption. Everyone knows I am for Brazil, I want to help Brazil, I want Brazil in the final, I want the best for Brazil.
“Everybody knows I don’t have anything against Mr. Havelange and FIFA,” Pele said. “Mr. Havelange has been my idol since 1958. He has encouraged me, he has given the message to me. He is the boss of FIFA. He can say whatever he wants.”
Of course, it was Pele who made Brazil an international soccer power, which helped put Havelange in place to become FIFA president in 1974. And it was Pele’s decision to play for the North American Soccer League in 1975 that created the possibility for the World Cup to come to the United States almost 20 years later. Pele remains the only soccer name recognized by Americans.
“When I came here to play for the New York Cosmos, we started to talk of the World Cup coming to the U.S.,” said Pele, now 54. “They said, ‘Pele, are you crazy? The World Cup in the U.S.A.?’ But today the dream comes true. In my view, we are here today to start the World Cup. This makes me happy.”
The soccer world we know today is, for better or worse, what the arrogant autocrat known as Havelange hath wrought. For those who watched his career as FIFA strongman, this quote, to Time magazine in 1998, summed up Havelange:
“I’ve been to Russia twice, invited by President Yeltsin. In Italy, I saw Pope John Paul II three times. When I go to Saudi Arabia, King Fahd welcomes me in splendid fashion. Do you think a head of state will spare that much time for just anyone? That’s respect. They’ve got their power, and I’ve got mine: the power of football, which is the greatest power there is.”
Filed under: Gianni Infantino, Uncategorized | Tags: 2018 World Cup, 2022 World Cup, Andorra, Arab Spring, Asian Football Confederation, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil '14, Brig, Cameroon, Dutch East Indies, European Championship, FIFA, FIFA Council, FIFA Executive Committee, France, France '98, Gianni Infantino, Honduras, Jerome Champagne, Joao Havelange, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Michel Platini, NCAA basketball tournament, Prince Ali, Qatar, Russia, San Marino, Sepp Blatter, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim, South Korea, UEFA, UEFA general secretary, Visp, World Cup, Zaire, Zurich
A dark horse candidate–Michel Platini’s lieutenant at the UEFA–emerged as the victor in a tense, six-hour FIFA presidential election in Zurich as member nations sought to put behind them years of scandal that cost Sepp Blatter his job as world soccer boss and led to the indictment of 41 soccer officials and marketing agencies.
Gianni Infantino, an Italian-Swiss attorney who grew up in the Alpine Village of Brig–just seven miles from Blatter’s hometown of Visp–surprisingly finished first in the initial balloting, attracting 88 votes to 85 for the favorite, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim of Bahrain, 27 for Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan and seven for Jerome Champagne of France. With no one having won a two-thirds majority, that set up a second ballot for the first time in 42 years, and with a simple majority of the 104 votes needed, Infantino out-polled Salman, 115 to 88. Ali received four votes and Champagne none.
Salman, the head of the Asian Football Confederation, was the front-runner during the four-month campaign, but he apparently was undone by concerns over his actions during the Arab Spring riots of 2011. Infantino only entered the race in October to hold a place for Platini, who was under investigation for financial wrongdoing and ultimately was banned from soccer activities by FIFA for six years.
Infantino, 45, will be president until May 2019, completing Blatter’s term. Blatter resigned under pressure last May, four days after winning a fifth four-year term as FIFA chief. He subsequently was banned for eight years–later reduced to six–for financial mismanagement related to his dealings with Platini.
Before the election the member federations approved a wide-ranging slate of reforms intended to increase transparency, foster greater inclusion and restore the confidence of sponsors. Among them, FIFA presidents will be limited to three four-year teams, and the FIFA Executive Committee will be expanded from 24 to 36 members (six of whom must be women) and renamed the FIFA Council. [February 26]
Comment: Best of luck to Infantino in righting the FIFA ship. But beware of another Swiss bearing gifts.
Just as Blatter before him and Brazilian Joao Havelange before him, Infantino assumes the world soccer throne having made offers to please the have-nots among the membership, including more funding steered in their direction from the $5 billion taken in by the 2014 World Cup. But for those who consider the World Cup the greatest of all sporting events, what’s troubling is Infantino’s stance that the tournament be expanded from 32 finalists to 40.
It doesn’t seem like much: eight extra nations, probably 10 groups of four teams instead of the eight groups of four at Brazil ’14 and every World Cup since France ’98. But does international soccer’s biggest stage really need an additional eight no-hopers, eight teams that under today’s format wouldn’t have even been strong enough to earn the opportunity to finish last in a World Cup first-round group?
World Cups have had contenders who hadn’t a prayer of even surviving the opening round of a 16-nation tournament, from Dutch East Indies in 1938 and South Korea (0 goals for, 16 against, in two matches) in 1954 to Zaire (a 9-0 loser to Yugoslavia) in 1974. But while the balance of power around the world has improved, FIFA has maintained the World Cup gap between the strongest nations and the rest by expanding the tournament, first to 24 nations in 1982, then the present 32 in ’98. As a result, the finals remains diluted, and we get performances like those of Cameroon, Australia and Honduras two years ago, which went a combined 0-9-0 with five goals scored and 26 conceded. That amounted to matches not worth watching on what is the sport’s grand stage.
The parameters for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and ’22 in Qatar have already been set, so the first time Infantino could spring a 40-nation tournament on the world wouldn’t be possible until 2026, whose host–the U.S., perhaps–has yet to be determined. But Americans already have seen how these things get out of control. The NCAA basketball tournament started modestly enough in 1939 as an eight-school affair. Within a dozen years it had been expanded to 16, then doubled again in 1975. Four years after that it was 40, and the year after that 48. It has since grown by degrees to 68 schools, and for the past five years there has been pressure to expand it to 128. And the driving force behind this amazing expansion has been–no surprise here–television money.
Infantino has to lead the reform of FIFA while his organization deals with a current deficit of $108 million. A tall order. Should he win a term in his own right, he’d have the opportunity to make a 40-nation World Cup a reality in 2026. And he would know how to get it done. In his previous post, as UEFA general secretary, Infantino oversaw the expansion of the European Championship from 16 teams to 24. If that seems bloated, it is: That’s nearly half the UEFA’s membership of 54 nations. Ridiculous, but countries like San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra can dream, now, can’t they? And soccer fans who want to watch a competition like the Euro Championship that offers the highest possible quality can hope that no-hopers like that continue to be able to do nothing more than dream.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Chuck Blazer, FIFA Congress, ISL, Jack Warner, Mohamed bin Hammam, Sepp Blatter, Theo Zwanziger
Weeks of intrigue, finger-pointing and threats came to an anticlimactic conclusion as Sepp Blatter, running unopposed, was re-elected to a fourth four-year term as FIFA president by a 186-17 vote in Zurich during the world soccer governing body’s 61st Congress.
Blatter’s path was cleared three days earlier when his only challenger, Asian confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam, was suspended from soccer activities in the wake of an accusation by CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer that he had attempted to buy the votes of Caribbean officials at $40,000 apiece.
The collateral damage included the suspension of CONCACAF president Jack Warner on bribery charges, the firing of Blazer by Warner’s interim successor and his subsequent reinstatement, and the ostracism of the English F.A., whose bid to postpone Blatter’s “coronation” until suitable opposition could be found was soundly quashed, 172-17. Adding to the turmoil was a call by the head of the German federation, Theo Zwanziger, for a probe into how Bin Hammam’s Qatar defeated the U.S. in December in the bid to host the 2022 World Cup. [June 1]
Comment: Don’t look for anything to change over the next four years. (Also, American dreamers, don’t look for a re-vote on who will host the ’22 World Cup, which the U.S. originally lost, 13-4.) Blatter, momentarily jostled, is back in the saddle, and there will now be the patching of the cracks, not a razing of the foundation. One only has to go back to Blatter’s first re-election campaign, which came on the heels of the infamous ISL collaspse, to recall how the FIFA boss, through his rhetoric, managed to drive the word “transparency” into the ground. Hollow now as it was back then.