Ex-FIFA president Havelange dies aged 100

Joao Havelange, whose nearly quarter-century reign as FIFA president oversaw the expansion of the game globally but was also marred by corruption, has died in hospital in Rio de Janeiro.

A hospital spokeswoman said that Havelange, who turned 100 in May, had been admitted last month to the Samaritano hospital in the Botafogo district of the city for treatment for pneumonia.

Havelange was president of the world football governing body FIFA from 1974 to 1998 during which he was one of the most influential figures in international sport. He resigned as FIFA's honorary president in April 2013 following an investigation into bribery allegations.

The Brazilian was a former Olympian swimmer and water polo player who was president of the Brazilian Sports Confederation during the most successful periods of the country's football and also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for more than four decades.

The athletics stadium in Rio was named in his honour.

In an initial reaction, FIFA president Gianni Infantino expressed his condolences in a statement.

"During his 24 years as FIFA president football became truly global, reaching new territories and bringing the game to all corners of the world - something the whole football community should be grateful for. I extend my condolences to his family," read the statement.

At the Rio Games, organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Brazilian flags will be kept at half mast today."

At an IOC press conference, IOC spokesman Mark Adams would not be drawn into the legacy of corruption issues.

"I think a 100-year-old man has died today and it would be entirely inappropriate to discuss that today," Adams said.

Havelange succeeded Sir Stanley Rous as FIFA president and for 24 years was the dominant ruler of world football, leading the World Cup's expansion from 16 to 32 teams and overseeing the development of FIFA into a global concern with professional but also corruption-prone structures.

He was the subject of corruption investigations and allegations by Swiss prosecutors in July 2012 that he and his son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira took tens of millions of dollars in bribes in connection with the awarding of World Cup marketing rights.

Born on May 8, 1916, Havelange was a keen sportsman who competed in the Olympics as a swimmer in 1936 in Berlin and as a water polo player in 1952 in Helsinki.

From 1958 he was head of the Brazilian Sports Confederation before he became president of FIFA from 1974.

While building FIFA into a global undertaking with a turnover today of billions of dollars, the authoritarian Havelange also stood in the shadow of corruption and faced criticism for cooperating with dictatorial regimes, including 1978 World Cup hosts Argentina.

It is thought the bankrupt sports marketing company ISL paid more than 100 million dollars in the 1990s to senior officials including Havelange.

In return, the ISL were given lucrative television and marketing rights. Joseph Blatter, who was FIFA secretary general and succeeded Havelange as president, was seen as the Brazilian's protege and has himself been mired in the scandals which have rocked the football ruling body.

Blatter, who is now serving a football ban in the wake of the corruption investigations, said football owed Havelange "a big thank-you."

Paying tribute to his predecessor, Blatter added: "Football, your passion, my mission, is constantly evolving. Thanks to you, it is now as large and influential as never before."

The scandals however had ruptured many friendships and business relations, and Havelange fell out with Pele after the country's football legend denounced corruption in Brazil's game.

Havelange was from 1963 to 2011 an IOC member before stepping down after an earlier investigation into his relationship with ISL. But unlike some administrators in the current FIFA scandal he has been spared international law enforcement. He always denied having taken illegal money.

Last update: Tue, 16/08/2016 - 18:39
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