Joao Havelange, who as president of FIFA for two decades transformed soccer’s governing body into a multibillion-dollar business and a hotbed for subsequent corruption that damaged its reputation, has died at age of 100.
Havelange, who was suffering from a respiratory infection, died early Tuesday while Rio de Janeiro was hosting the Olympic Games, according to the Samaritano Hospital.
In 2009, Havelange led off Rio’s bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen by inviting the members to vote to “join me in celebrating my 100th birthday'” at the 2016 Games in Brazil.
The Brazilian flag was lowered to half-staff at Olympic venues and the IOC said its “thoughts are with the family and loved ones” of Havelange.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino lavished praise on Havelange, saying the “whole football community should be grateful” for his contribution.
“During his 24 years as FIFA president football became truly global, reaching new territories and bringing the game to all corners of the world,” Infantino said.
Born in Rio de Janeiro in May 1916, Brazilian Havelange was predecessor to Sepp Blatter at world football’s governing body, serving from 1974 to 1998.
He resigned as Fifa’s honorary president in April 2013 following an investigation into bribery allegations and was admitted to hospital the following year with a lung infection.
He was an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member from 1963 until 2011, resigning because of ill health.
“He had one idea in his head, to make football a global game with his slogan ‘football is the universal language’, and he succeeded,” said former Fifa president Sepp Blatter.
Havelange represented Brazil in swimming at the 1936 Olympics – the year he qualified as a lawyer – before his election to the IOC.
As Fifa president he led the World Cup’s expansion from 16 to 32 teams, with six competitions held under his tenure.
However, his career was also mired in controversy over bribery allegations.
In 2010, a BBC Panorama programme accused Havelange and son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira of taking millions of dollars in bribes from Swiss marketing agency International Sport and Leisure (ISL) to retain the company as Fifa’s sole official marketer.
His resignation from the IOC five years ago avoided an investigation into the ISL allegations, which Havelange had denied.
In 2012, Teixeira stepped down as head of Brazil’s football federation, a position he filled for 23 years, and resigned from the 2014 World Cup organising committee after coming under pressure over corruption allegations, which he also denied.
As well as swimming at the 1936 Olympics, Havelange was part of the Brazilian water polo team at the 1952 Helsinki Games and was chef de mission for the Brazilian delegation at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
And it was as a sports administrator, particularly in football, that Havelange made his mark.
He embarked on a career which began as president of the Metropolitan Swimming Federation in Brazil. He also became a member of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and joined the International Cycling Union in 1958.
After becoming vice-president of the Brazilian Sports Confederation, he served as president from 1958 to 1973, before he became the most powerful man in world football.
In 1974 he succeeded Britain’s Sir Stanley Rous to be elected Fifa president, marshalling support among those unhappy at the perceived European domination of the world governing body.
An imposing figure, with piercing blue eyes, his astuteness as a politician and his adeptness at retaining power enabled him to hold the Fifa presidency for 24 years until being succeeded by Blatter in 1998.
When Havelange was elected president, Fifa’s Zurich headquarters housed just 12 staff members. But that figure increased almost tenfold over the next two decades as Fifa’s organisational responsibilities and commercial interests grew.
Increasing the size of the World Cup to 32 teams gave countries from Asia, Oceania and Africa the chance to shine on the world stage, Cameroon becoming the first African country to reach the quarter-finals in 1990.
It was Havelange who launched a wave of new tournaments, notably the world championships at Under-17 and Under-20 level in the late 1980s and the Fifa Confederations Cup and Fifa Women’s World Cup at the start of the 1990s.