Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid de Havelange was the son of Belgian immigrants, a lawyer by training, who made his fortune in the transportation business, operating buses. He made his name in
soccer as the head of the Brazilian Sports Confederation during Brazilian soccer's glory years when Brazil won three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).
Havelange became FIFA president in 1974 and transformed soccer from a parochial sport whose power was concentrated in Europe to a global sport dominated by commercial interests. Havelange was the ultimate power broker who used all his political and commercial connections to cut deals and consolidate his power around the world.
FIFA (and the IOC) used a third party -- ISL -- to market their media and commercial rights, and Havelange made sure ISL remembered who was boss. Havelange's model for self-enrichment -- kickbacks -- was copied by soccer bosses around the world in a pattern only recently revealed by the Federal indictment of dozens of soccer kingpins.
“I found an old house and $20 in the kitty,” Havelange said after leaving in 1998. “On the day I departed 24 years later, I left property and contracts worth over $4 billion. Not too bad, I'd say.”
Everything blew up after ISL filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and Swiss investigators uncovered widespread payoffs, then not a crime in Switzerland, where FIFA is based.
How much exactly Havelange and then-son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira took is not known, but ISL records showed payments to accounts to the two Brazilians totaled almost $22 million in nine years (1992-2000) and they paid back $6.1 million in a confidential settlement.
Havelange resigned as honorary president of FIFA in 2013 after a FIFA ethics report determined he was "morally and ethically reproachable" for taking kickbacks from ISL. Two years earlier, he resigned as a member of the IOC, which he joined in 1963.
That disgrace did not prevent the IOC from ordering the Brazilian flag to be lowered to half-staff at Olympic venues on Tuesday.
“I clocked 26,000 hours in the air, the equivalent of spending three years in an airplane,” Havelange once said. “The only country I never visited was Afghanistan, because they wouldn't let me in.”
In later years, he came to the United States often. What Havelange wanted he usually got, and he decided after soccer's popularity at the 1984 Olympics that the World Cup needed to come to the United States. Even if that meant he had to break with Brazil, which was one of three bidders with the USA and Morocco, he gave his nod to the USA to host the 1994 World Cup. The World Cup came to the USA in 1994, it was a great success, and soccer took off.
Havelange was always a larger than life figure, who spoke French slowly in a deep gravely voice that was easy to understand. The first time I met him was in Rome during the 1980 European Championship. He was walking with his wife and daughter, Teixeira's then-wife, on a Sunday afternoon near the UEFA hotel.
The last time I saw Havelange was at a reception on the eve of the 1994 U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting in San Diego. Despite the success of the World Cup, Alan Rothenberg, the president of U.S. Soccer, was in a tough re-election fight. Havelange's style was to show up at an event, his mere presence a signal whom he expected everyone should throw their support behind.
Rothenberg had amassed enough support from the rank and file -- the youth and amateurs -- that he was going to win with or without Havelange's backing, but Havelange's presence at the reception the event was incongruous.
Elsewhere, everyone might have stopped to acknowledge the godfather. But at this event, soccer folks went about mingling and chatting without giving their special guest a second thought.