Joao Havelange, Who Led Soccer’s FIFA in Growth, Dies at 100

  • Brazilian was second-longest serving president of the group
  • He resigned from FIFA after corruption allegations in 2013

Joao Havelange

Photographer: Buda Mendes/STF/LatinContent via Getty Images

Joao Havelange, who as the second-longest serving head of FIFA transformed soccer’s governing body into a global business worth billions and the center of corruption allegations, has died. He was 100.

Havelange, who had recently battled pneumonia, died Tuesday at Samaritano Hospital in Rio de Janeiro, according to an e-mailed statement from the medical center.

The Brazilian built his powerbase by expanding FIFA’s membership in the developing world, and enlarging the World Cup, turning it into a competition that generates more than $5 billion per tournament. That revenue helped solidify Havelange’s position as president, allowing him to remain in the post from 1974 to 1998, when his deputy, Sepp Blatter, replaced him.

As FIFA’s finances boomed allegations of wrongdoing against senior officials became more regular. The 2001 collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner led to revelations that the sport’s officials around the world received bribes in return for lucrative television and sponsorship contracts. FIFA in 2013 confirmed Havelange was one of those recipients.

In 2013, the soccer body’s ethics court judge Joachim Eckert said Havelange’s conduct had been “morally and ethically reproachable.” Havelange was allowed to resign from his role as FIFA’s honorary president before he could be punished.

New Tournaments

Membership in the Federation International de Football Association, as the group is formally known, increased from 139 national associations in 1975 to more than 200, while several competitions were added including under-17 and under-20 world championships. A women’s international tournament was also established and the World Cup entry doubled to 32 teams.

By attracting global sponsors such as Adidas AG and Coca-Cola Co. and increasing the value of television rights for the World Cup, Havelange was able to expand the game beyond its traditional strongholds of Europe and South America.

“If you’re a football person, only concerned about the game on the field, you’ll remember him as somebody who extended the world game,” Alan Tomlinson, a professor at the University of Brighton, who co-wrote two books on FIFA’s politics, said in an interview. “But part of his legacy will be as someone who was a fearsome dictator, with no accountability, and not concerned with ideals his organization expressed.”

Corruption Charges

In 2015, several of the sport’s officials, who formed FIFA’s leadership group during Havelange’s reign, were named among those charged in a sprawling U.S. Justice Department indictment, which alleged more than two decades of corruption in soccer. Havelange wasn’t named in the indictment.

Havelange succeeded Sir Stanley Rous as head of the association in 1974, then led the group for six terms until 1998 when he was replaced by Sepp Blatter.

FIFA’s staff at its Zurich headquarters grew from seven employees in 1974 to 70 by the late 1990s, while television income from the World Cup swelled from 21 million Swiss francs ($21.8 million) at the start of his first term to 1.3 billion Swiss francs for the 2002 event, which was negotiated during Havelange’s presidency.

“It was my aim to run FIFA in the way I control and manage my businesses,” he told FIFA magazine in 1998. “Football has become the most important and most respected movement on Earth.”

Service Tenure

Havelange served as FIFA president longer than any of his predecessors except Frenchman Jules Rimet, considered the “Father of the World Cup” for his leadership in establishing the tournament. He ran the organization from 1921 to 1954.

The Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, site of the Summer Olympics track and field events, was originally named for Havelange. He had been a member of the International Olympic Committee.

Jean Marie Faustin Godefroid de Havelange was born May 8, 1916, in Rio de Janeiro to Belgian parents. His father was a mining engineer.

He competed for Brazil in the 1936 Olympics as a swimmer and in 1952 as a member of its water polo team. He became a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1963.

Havelange, a lawyer by training, was nominated in 1988 for the Nobel Peace Prize by FIFA for his negotiations that incorporated China as a member of soccer’s governing body while also keeping Taiwan from leaving.

With more than 100 honors and awards for his accomplishments, including the Cavalier of the Legion d’Honneur from France and the Grand Cross of Elizabeth the Catholic from Spain, Havelange was made an honorary president of FIFA in 1998 when he retired.

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