RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – One of Joao Havelange’s favorite utterances was that when he arrived at FIFA house to take over as president in 1974, he found $20 in the till and headquarters that were falling apart.
When he left 24 years later, he said there was $4 billion in the coffers, $100 million worth of property and soccer’s governing body had more members than the United Nations.
During his presidency the Brazilian, who died at the age of 100 on Tuesday, transformed FIFA and its flagship competition, the World Cup.
Havelange ushered in big-money sponsorship of the finals, turning them into a highly lucrative operation that had television networks and some of the world’s largest corporations falling over themselves to get a slice of the action.
On the field the World Cup went from 16 teams in 1974, almost all drawn from Europe and South America, to 32 in 1998, most of the added places going to the confederations of Africa, Asia and North and Central America.
But Havelange was frequently criticized for being autocratic, his reign was tainted with allegations of corruption and his career ended in disgrace.
In 2013 he resigned as honorary FIFA president after the Ethics Committee ruled he had taken bribes from the now-defunct sports marketing agency ISL.
A report by FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert described his behavior as “morally and ethically reproachable”.
Two years earlier he had quit as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a post he had held since 1963.
Havelange cited poor health but his resignation came just days before the IOC was due to hold an ethics hearing into his conduct.
ISL went bankrupt in 2001 with debts of around $300 million.
Havelange won the FIFA presidency from Englishman Stanley Rous in 1974, having shrewdly canvassed African votes and played on the continent’s lack of representation at the World Cup.
After that he was unopposed in five successive elections.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Until 1970 Africa did not have a direct spot in the competition, instead having to go through a playoff against the winners of the Asian confederation.
The justification was that African teams were not good enough.
“The 1966 World Cup was in England, the FIFA president at the time was English and the president of the FIFA refereeing commission was English,” Havelange recalled during a Brazilian Congressional hearing in 2000.
“I remember that in Brazil’s three first-round games, against Portugal, Hungary and Bulgaria, seven of the nine match officials, three referees and six assistants, were English. Naturally we didn’t get past the first round.”
By the time Havelange left as president, Africa and South America had five places each at the World Cup, Asia four and North and Central America three.
Yet the competition did not always cover itself in glory. The 1978 World Cup was held in Argentina, under a brutal military dictatorship that used the finals to cover up their domestic troubles.
In 1986 in Mexico, matches were played in blistering heat to fit in with television schedules, a problem repeated eight years later in the United States.
Havelange was extremely proud that FIFA had nearly 200 member associations by the time he left office, more than the United Nations, as he liked to repeat.
“When I left FIFA on July 8, 1998, we had 194 member nations and I visited all but two of them,” he once said.
“One of the exceptions was Afghanistan which was at war. But I remember that two officials visited me in Zurich, having come from Kabul by car.”
Havelange said he received 6,000 letters during his presidency and replied to every one.
“I don’t gamble, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke,” he said. “I have had a correct and dignified life and I have brought success to my country.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Tony Jimenez)