[OBITUARY] Julio Grondona, FIFA senior vice president, died on Wednesday after being admitted to a Buenos Aires hospital for an aortic aneurysm. The 82-year-old Don Julio, as he was known in Argentina, had been president of the Argentina soccer federation (AFA) since 1979. During his tenure, Argentina won the World Cup once and finished runner-up twice. But his reign as not without controversy. He was forced to apologize for making anti-Semitic remarks and his role in the World Cup 2022 vote that went to Qatar was questioned.
Despite its wealth of talent, Argentina soccer has struggled for many years. It has suffered from some of the worst fan-related gang violence anywhere in the world. And economic problems have forced clubs to sell off their best players at young ages.
Grondona, whose wife Nelida died two years ago, planned to step down from his roles with FIFA and the AFA in 2015, the same year Argentina will introduce a 30-team first division and abandon its split-season format commonly used in Latin America.
In 2003, Grondona apologized after telling a live TV audience, “I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee. It’s hard work and, you know, Jews don’t like hard work."
As senior vice president, Grondona was the No. 2 FIFA executive, and in his role as chairman of the finance committee carried great influence. Along with Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira and Paraguayan Nicolas Leoz, the other two South Americans of the executive committee with whom he voted for Qatar over the USA, he tilted the vote to for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights in the Gulf emirate's favor. But unlike Teixeira and Leoz, Grondona was never wrapped in the ISL scandal involving payoffs to Teixeira, Leoz and former FIFA president Joao Havelange. Both Teixeira and Leoz resigned.
The longest-serving executive committee member along with Belgian Michel D'Hooghe, Grondona was accused of negotiating with Qatari organizers for money to help prop up the ailing AFA, but he said his World Cup 2022 vote was a simple matter. "Yes, I voted for Qatar, because a vote for the U.S. would be like a vote for England, and that is not possible," he said in a 2011 interview with German news agency DPA. Grondona had a running feud with the English FA and English media, calling the English "liars and pirates."
When reports surfaced in the spring that FIFA executive committee members were trying to put the brakes on FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia's review of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, Grondona was believed to one of the ringleaders of the anti-Garcia faction.
A press conference scheduled for Wednesday to announce that Alejandro Sabella, coach of the 2014 Argentina World Cup team, was quitting was postponed.
In Grondona's memory, the AFA ordered all Argentine soccer shut down for a week.