Joao Havelange, who has died at 100, was the man who made FIFA a global powerhouse, only to resign under a cloud of corruption that has darkened the world footballing body’s reputation.
His death was confirmed Tuesday by the Samaritano Hospital in Rio de Janeiro. He had been treated there as recently as July for pneumonia.
As head of FIFA for 24 years and with half a century on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Havelange thought and acted big, becoming a central figure in the evolution of today’s sporting mega-events.
Among his last achievements was to use his clout to help Rio win its bid to host this year’s Olympic Games — the first held in South America. Havelange “sees the world through a telescope and not through a microscope,” former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said.
Born to a wealthy Belgian immigrant family in Rio de Janeiro in 1916, Jean-Marie Faustin Goedefroid de Havelange graduated with a law degree, but sport was his true love. He represented Brazil in swimming at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and again in Helsinki in 1952, where he was on the water polo team.
His real calling turned out to be in management where he rose to the top echelons of sporting bodies, setting a standard for the kind of lengthy — and deeply entrenched — reigns that some critics blame for fostering a culture of corruption.
Havelange was president of the Brazilian Sports Confederation for 15 years and joined the Brazilian Olympic Committee in 1955, then the IOC in 1963 where he would remain until 2011.
In 1974 he got the job of FIFA president, succeeding Sir Stanley Rous as the first non-European in the role. Over the next quarter century Havelange would change the way the world experienced football.