When the World Cup Final on 12 July 1998 is over, the 24-year reign of João Havelange as President of FIFA will also come to an end. Walter Lutz offers a personal tribute. *
WALTER LUTZ was editor-in-chief of the Zurich magazine "Sport" from 1963 to 1986, and was himself awarded the FIFA Order of Merit.**
Take the best you can find and make it better (Rolls-Royce)**
In the first seventy years of its existence, FIFA had only six presidents; the seventh was elected at the 39th Congress in Frankfurt on 11 June 1974, just before the World Cup started that year in Germany. The vote went to the 58 year-old Jean Marie Faustin Godefroid Havelange, whose Belgian parents, later to become Brazilian, called him João. He defeated the powerful and seemingly invincible incumbent Sir Stanley Rous, who was close to 80 at the time.
Although he was born in Rio – his father was there as a mining engineer – he was brought up "European" and went to boarding school in France. He became the first non-European ever to be elected President of FIFA, and what he did was to treat football as a product and FIFA as a business. In this way he introduced the golden age of football.
Without needing to boast about it, Havelange has always been a non-smoker, and the wine glass in front of him always remains full – he only needs it for toasts, rather like IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. And at parties or receptions, though he may feel perfectly at ease, untroubled and relaxed, he is always the first to leave – discreetly – that is simply his way of doing things, his style.
Always the right word
He is tall and upright like a guardsman, and he keeps slim and fit thanks to his daily swimming routine. He retains the appearance of the athlete of his younger days, with a touch of the general about him; a commanding, patriarchal figure as befits his status as one of the "kings of football".
Polite, well-educated, charming and not without a sense of humour, he takes a keen interest in the fine arts and he has the diplomat’s gift of being at home in any society – being received by the President in the White House in the USA or talking with a group of footballers. He is also blessed with the sensitivity always to find the right word for the situation, be it a reception or just in conversation, often with a touch of understatement.
A leader in the world of sports, some of his characteristics might seem to have come from a bygone age and he might appear to outsiders as a bit of an anachronism, washed over by the tides of time, change and development. Anyone who thought this way would be forming quite a misleading impression.
Havelange is perhaps not a manager in the modern sense and never wanted to be. But he is a leader in the sporting field, who has kept up with the times, and with his clear vision he has often made jumps ahead. As FIFA President he has always known exactly what he wanted, and has led the organisation in an innovative and direct manner towards new objectives.
Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, a long-time friend of Havelange, once offered a plausible explanation: “He always sees the world through a telescope and not through a microscope." And he always follows his intuition which never seems to let him down. He is an entrepreneur with a head full of ideas and bold projects. It was one of his fresh and wise ideas to give General Secretary Sepp Blatter full powers to act as the first manager of FIFA. The President steered football through a hectic period of change and revival, when the game was going through the processes of socialisation and globalisation. He brought to the game world wide marketing and commercialisation and led it into a new future like a guiding light, as the sport went through a series of new developments.
He was an active sportsman himself, taking part in the Olympic Games in 1936 (swimming) and 1952 (water polo). In the 50s he became a major figure in sports, certainly the most important in Brazil, while developing his private business interests too. Even today he is still jetting around the world 300 days a year in his capacity as FIFA President, without showing any signs of tiring.
Passion not profession
He has the personal qualities that could have made him a career as a diplomat had he wished; his education could have seen him become a successful lawyer, and he followed this path for a while; his directness of purpose and his clear thinking could have made him a high ranking officer in the military.
Those were possibilities; what is perhaps surprising, but typical for him, is that in his 24 years as FIFA President he has consistently devoted more time to looking after football than he has given to any of his business interests or even to his family. Football has been his life and his passion, but not his profession; the strengthening of FIFA’s position has been his objective and his mission, a challenge he felt called upon to conquer.
Would it be right to call him a patriarch in the Old Testament sense of an honourable and father-like figure? Or has he been a dictator, as those who missed the boat in not predicting developments themselves have claimed, as they suffered the consequences of seeing things too late? Or has this man, with his charisma still shining through in later years, simply shaken the sleepy FIFA organisation he inherited wide awake, out of its state of being mainly concerned with maintaining the status quo and letting things tick along without too much intervention?
Clear vision of the future
The latter is closest to the truth – with a clear vision of the future and a belief in what could be done in an age when many leaders in the world of sport had no vision of the dimensions and opportunities that could be achieved, he led football boldly forward into a new era.
But, as noted above, Havelange has always been self-confident and ambitious and well aware of what he wanted. As far back as 40 years ago, Gustav Wiederkehr, later to become President of UEFA, hinted in private conversations that he had met in Brazil a forceful personality, someone with a wide knowledge of the world football scene, a man who seemed to fulfil all the requirements for taking over the highest office in the game of football at some stage.
In 1971 João Havelange decided to run for the office of FIFA President. He had already been elected in 1963 to membership of the IOC at its 63rd session, and in that respect he is today the second longest serving member. From 1958 to 1973 he was president of the powerful Brazilian Sports Federation (CBD) and he was influential in Brazil’s three world cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
For three years he campaigned earnestly for the position. By May of 1974 he had visited 84 of the 142 member associations personally and logged up 80,000 kilometres of travel. He ran his campaign very professionally, presenting a clear programme, one that would look after the interests of the ever more numerous but until then neglected developing football countries. He proposed an increase in the number of World Cup final round participants from 16 to 24 (achieved in 1982), generous help for the development of the game (which has been delivered in 75 countries and sponsored by Coca-Cola), which included courses for coaches, referees, doctors and administrators. He also promoted the introduction of World Championships for junior and youth teams.
His aim has been, as he himself explains it, to make FIFA more than just "an organisation that holds the World Cup every four years". He wanted to gain support for football, on a worldwide basis, including finance (and he went out looking for sponsors himself at the start) and also to run FIFA as a professional businesslike organisation. On 22 May, UEFA decided to back the candidacy of Sir Stanley Rous, who had been in office since 1961, "one of the reasons being to keep the leadership of world football within Europe."
When the time came to vote, 122 nations were represented at the Congress, more than ever before. To succeed in the first round a two thirds majority (79 votes) was required; Havelange obtained 62, Rous 56. In the second round the voting was 68:52 in favour of Havelange. Sir Stanley Rous was made an honorary president of FIFA, and when he died on 18 July 1986 at the age of 92, Havelange paid tribute to him in FIFA News as "a football pioneer whose human wisdom and factual knowledge led the game into new dimensions."
Havelange’s aim was to "erase all the white areas from the world football map". Once in power he exploded into action like a volcano, or perhaps an avalanche would be a more appropriate term, putting all his energy into FIFA and making good on his promises in a very short time. In his first four years in office, in 1461 days to be exact, his own statistics show that he was away from home and on the road 1095 days, visiting 116 countries in this period.
When Havelange took over at FIFA, he called in his General Secretary Helmut Kaeser and told him: "I don’t know how much you earn, but from today your salary will be doubled." To push through his development programme, Havelange appointed Sepp Blatter, then a director at the watch company Longines, as the first technical director. That was in 1975. Six years later, in 1981, following differences of opinion with Kaeser, Havelange and the General Secretary parted company. On 15 January 1982, the dynamic Swiss manager Blatter, who had in effect been running the secretariat since the previous October, was appointed de jure by the Executive as his father-in-law’s successor, equipped with wide-ranging powers that made him practically general director. The chemistry between the two top men was just right. Havelange referred to Blatter as his foreign minister, sometimes as his prime minister. Their harmonious relationship – each knowing that he was dependent on the other – laid the foundation for the future success of FIFA from the football, political and economic angles, success that would benefit every member country and those that reached the World Cup finals in particular, since they now would be allotted a share of the profits.
The secretariat took on more and more responsibilities; its structure was clarified and the number of employees rose from 12 to its present 65. In 1979 FIFA moved into its new headquarters on Zurichberg, at Hitzigweg 11, taking over an old villa that the former General Secretary Kaeser lived in and had been available for nighttime telephone calls too.
FIFA now began to put its intentions of opening up the game worldwide into practice. Working with Horst Dassler, the head of Adidas and of the marketing firm ISL (who died in 1987 at the age of 51), Havelange established the basis for introducing new competitions for national teams and World Championships for juniors (U17) and youths (U20, U23), for women, and for indoor football. On the documentary side, FIFA began to issue its own publications (FIFA News, FIFA Magazine) and to produce course books, technical reports and analyses for all FIFA competitions. Then came the intensified organisation of courses and seminars, world wide image promotion campaigns (such as Fair Play) and a consolidation of the new management structure, now organised into functional divisions. And after long and hard negotiations with the IOC, Havelange also succeeded in reaching a binding agreement of a type that no other sport had managed, which was to have an age limit of 23 for the Olympic football tournament, thus skilfully avoiding direct competition with the World Cup as the top football competition.
A small point but one which is perhaps indicative of the manner in which things are run at FIFA headquarters: when the President is due to visit, a Brazilian flag is raised outside the villa, and when any of the standing committees meet those gentlemen involved wear FIFA uniform. While Havelange pays due respect to appearances in this way, contents are definitely more important to him than packaging. Probably because he is of a pragmatic nature, all ideas and actions are evaluated from the point of view of their benefit to football, and he manages to balance the need to progress against conservatism, innovative spirit against tradition. He is simultaneously a keeper and a bit of a "revolutionary", as exemplified in his attitude towards the Laws of the Game which for him are "the foundation without which there will be no order and no progress in the sport." But he is always considering the future – he wastes no time thinking of what has gone by.
In 1989 his name was even put forward by FIFA as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, following a motion proposed by the Swiss Football Association (a noted predecessor in the world of sport, Baron Pierre de Coubertin had been nominated 50 years earlier). Among achievements leading to this nomination were perhaps his handling of the delicate "South Africa problem" in 1976, which was the first breakthrough there in any kind of sport, or the master stroke in 1978 of bringing the People’s Republic of China back into the footballing fold, without affecting the statutory rights of the Chinese Association in Taipei.
Always up to date
The most amazing thing about Havelange is perhaps that he always seems able to get things to come round to his point of view. How does he do it? For him power is not, as others may claim, arrogance, nor pride, nor the office, nor position, nor prestige. It is more understanding, experience and above all knowledge.
For he is aware of the problems and of what is in the dossiers better than practically anybody else. Because he is always on the spot, even taking part in many FIFA Committee meetings, he can convince people with the force of his arguments, his knowledge, his insight, his experiences and his appreciation of the inter-relationships.
Havelange is exactly what one would not describe as a decorative or representative president. He is always in action, always up to date. Together with his General Secretary he is the best informed man in football, continually in the front line, ever travelling from continent to continent to keep in touch with those of importance. With his finger on the pulse of the game he knows the opinions, moods and needs of all concerned. This helps him in meetings, including those of the Executive Committee, usually to get things going the way he wants, and his diplomatic skills and his flair for tactics see him through tricky situations. But he does not always win. He had a disagreement with the legendary football star Pele, over Havelange’s son-in-law, although for years previously he had used Pele as a roving ambassador for the game. His proposal to play matches in four quarters met with stiff resistance. At press conferences he may not answer questions that he sees as unnecessary and only asked because the questioner has not done his homework; he can break off discussions in this way and cause some hard feelings. And during congresses he can go through the agenda pretty rapidly; bad news for those who notice too late – there will be no going back to discuss a previous item.
Place of honour
Havelange is a perfectionist, sometimes appearing impatient because he does not wish to waste time and always steering towards his objective in the most direct manner possible. He has no time for flatterers, and there are plenty who try this tactic. They make him suspicious. Friendship for him is a matter of trust and loyalty. He expects honesty and loyalty from his colleagues too, and can be unforgiving; those who don’t do the expected job can go. He is always consistent in this respect.
But next June, after six four-year spells in office, Havelange is retiring, honoured with over 100 awards of medals and orders from governments and institutions. He has also not failed to choose the right moment to stand down. As the creator of the golden age of football and the rejuvenator of FIFA, this sensitive man will always occupy a place of honour in the organisation’s history.
"I must admit I am one of my husband’s greatest admirers. In my eyes, he is a man of integrity, high ideals and a sense of enterprise. I consider myself lucky to have been able to lend him my support in my own way, by accompanying him along the way through an impressive career full of moments of great significance but also sometimes of great challenge."
Mme. Anna Maria Havelange
SINCERITY AND WARMTH
"Although we are separated by a number of generations, there is much that unites us. A young lad in Brazil soon learns that João Havelange is a great man who, as the first non-European, was designated to lead the world of football, a responsibility he has undertaken with considerable success. In recent years I have had the good fortune to get to know him personally on the occasion of the awards ceremonies for the FIFA World Footballer of the Year. I was immediately captivated by his warmth and sincerity, and have also instinctively felt how he respects me both as a footballer and as a young person."
Ronaldo, FIFA World Footballer
of the Year 1996 and 1997
AN OUTSTANDING CAREER
"João Havelange is a great leader who, on both a national and global scale, has devoted his life to the development of sport in general and to football in particular.
After participating at the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 as a swimmer and at the 15th Olympics in Helsinki in 1952 as a water-polo player, João Havelange subsequently embarked on an outstanding executive career embracing all structural levels of sport.
Member of the International Olympic Committee since 1963 and President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) from 1974 to 1998, João Havelange assumed his important responsibilities with a remarkable capacity for hard work that encompassed many initiatives leading to firm results in the interests of the development of the universal sport of football."
Juan Antonio Samaranch, President
of the International Olympic Committee
GLOBALISATION BY JOÃO HAVELANGE
"With João Havelange, FIFA has become what its founders always hoped it would be: a universally popular, renowned and respected sporting organisation uniting all those who share the same passion on every continent. Nowadays, this globalisation is reflected in the "planetary" window known as the World Cup - thanks in great part to the drive of João Havelange who, as I have personally witnessed, is always attentive and close to the various Organising Committees. The World Cup has opened up to embrace all the continents. With more countries involved, more participating countries, not to mention a phenomenal sporting and media-oriented audience, this tournament has definitely entered the realms of the superlative. The former top-class athlete João Havelange has never forgotten that over and above all that differentiates them, sport’s paramount goal is to bring people together."
Michel Platini,Co-President, CFO France 98
"As far as leaders go, João Havelange is one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. In his capacity as FIFA President he has always been a model of intelligence, incredibly quick perception, professionalism, meticulous attention to complex subjects and questions as well as solid decision-making. In his comportment, his diplomatic skills and his personality, Havelange can be compared to a great statesman more than anything else. He impresses by means of his charisma and his personal touch. Despite his resoluteness he has always been a very solicitous person who listens carefully and who is prepared to lend an ear to everyone."
Senior Vice-President FIFA