The issue of tied games has triggered a public battle between Joao Havelange, president of FIFA, soccer’s world organizing body, and Michel Platini, chief organizer of the 1998 World Cup in France.
Platini wants to settle ties by sudden death, while Havelange long has advocated playing extra time all the way through before going to penalty kicks. What sparked this new controversy was Havelange’s statement in Rio de Janeiro last week that sudden death won’t be used, period, in World Cup ’98. That directly contradicted FIFA’s ruling last May that it definitely would be used.
Platini said he’s “extremely disappointed. . . . My football philosophy is to finish a match on a goal and not on a missed penalty.”
More intriguing than the fate of sudden death is Havelange’s timing. His challenge to FIFA’s directive comes just as his chief rival for the FIFA presidency, Lennart Johansson, president of the European organizing body, UEFA, is desperately trying to save his candidacy after giving a newspaper interview in which he made a series of buffoonishly racist comments about African soccer. The autocratic Havelange, 81, has been under pressure to retire or, at least, rule out a run for re-election.
Havelange has become one of the world’s most astute politicians during his years in charge of FIFA. He’s built an empire exploiting the opportunities left open by his rivals. The issue of sudden death gives him a chance to show he is still sharp and can still command obedience from FIFA. That may be just enough to send undecided electors shaken by Johansson’s inexplicable behavior over to the Havelange camp.
If Havelange is rebuffed, however, all bets are off, and with both leading contenders seriously damaged, an outside candidate could emerge as a compromise. Most probable is Issa Hayatou, president of CAF, the African confederation, but there could also be a push for Jack Warner, president of CONCACAF, who has steered the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation to stability and managed to maintain the confederation’s authority even as the rich United States has come to prominence.