Joao Havelange, who as president of FIFA for two decades transformed soccer's governing body into a multibillion-dollar business and a hotbed for subsequent corruption that damaged its reputation, has died. He was 100.
Havelange, a native Brazilian, died Tuesday while Rio de Janeiro was hosting the Olympic Games, according to the Samaritano Hospital. He had been suffering from a respiratory infection,
In 2009, Havelange led off Rio's bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen by inviting the members to vote to "join me in celebrating my 100th birthday"' at the 2016 Games in Brazil.
The Brazilian flag was lowered to half-staff at Olympic venues, and the IOC said its "thoughts are with the family and loved ones" of Havelange.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino lavished praise on Havelange, saying the "whole football community should be grateful" for his contribution.
"During his 24 years as FIFA president football became truly global, reaching new territories and bringing the game to all corners of the world," Infantino said.
Havelange expanded the World Cup from 16 to 32 teams and made it one of sports' most important events. He organized six World Cups as FIFA president from 1974 to 1998, when Sepp Blatter replaced him. He secured lucrative broadcast deals, brought nations into FIFA and created the women's World Cup.
Blatter said Havelange will always be synonymous with the expansion of soccer and turning it into the "universal language."
"Football thus owes him a huge debt of gratitude," Blatter said in a statement. "Thanks to Joao Havelange, football is the world's leading sport — not only from a social, cultural and economic perspective, but also in terms of its political impact."
But with more cash for football also came widespread financial wrongdoing by its top officials, including Havelange. In 2013, FIFA ethics court judge Joachim Eckert said Havelange's conduct had been "morally and ethically reproachable."
Havelange resigned in December 2011 as a member of the IOC just days before its leadership was expected to suspend him and rule on claims that he took a $1-million kickback.
"A 100-year-old man has died today, and I think it would be entirely inappropriate to discuss that" wrongdoing, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
Havelange was never punished by FIFA. He was allowed to resign his honorary presidency of FIFA in 2013.
"If someone had advised him to pay himself a salary, none of this would have come up," said Patrick Nally, a FIFA marketing consultant in the 1970s. "What Havelange did for FIFA was extraordinary. He was not a bandit, he was a visionary."
But three of FIFA's most notorious officials — his former son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira, Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner — joined FIFA's executive committee during Havelange's presidency. All three were subsequently swept up in corruption investigations by Swiss and U.S. authorities last year that also brought the end of Blatter's 17-year presidency.
Havelange was implicated with Teixeira in taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from World Cup broadcasting contracts. Both left FIFA between 2012 and 2013 to avoid sanctions from the soccer body's ethics committee. Teixeira has been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on corruption charges but has stayed out of reach of American investigators, remaining in Brazil, which typically does not extradite its citizens.
Havelange was cited as a personal hero in soccer by Blazer, the most senior U.S. official at FIFA and his former executive committee colleague. Blazer's testimony admitting widespread corruption was key to the sprawling U.S. investigation implicating FIFA. Blazer is seriously ill and awaiting sentencing.
Warner, a longtime Havelange ally, also is indicted and is fighting extradition to the U.S. from his native Trinidad and Tobago.
FIFA was a small organization with about a dozen employees when Havelange took over at its Zurich headquarters in 1974.
"I found an old house and $20 in the kitty," Havelange told FIFA's website. "On the day I departed 24 years later, I left property and contracts worth over $4 billion. Not too bad, I'd say."
He was reelected president six times, capitalizing on his contact-building across world football. FIFA's membership expanded by nearly one-third, to more than 200 nations and territories, under Havelange. China was readmitted in 1980, having left the organization in 1958.
"I clocked 26,000 hours in the air, the equivalent of spending three years in an airplane," Havelange said. "The only country I never visited was Afghanistan, because they wouldn't let me in."
The son of a Belgian father and a Brazilian mother, Havelange was a top-notch athlete before becoming a sports administrator. He swam for Brazil at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and played on its water polo team at the Helsinki Games in 1952.
He headed the Brazilian football confederation for nearly two decades, when Brazil's national team won its first three World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
Havelange was the first non-European head of FIFA and its longest serving president, stepping down at age 82. In a 1999 survey by the IOC, Havelange was voted among the top three sports leaders of the 20th century, behind former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin. He joined the IOC in 1963.
Havelange had a heart pacemaker implanted in 2006. In 2012 he was hospitalized for more than two months, including several weeks in intensive care, because of an infection in his right ankle. He was back in the hospital to July to undergo treatment for pneumonia.
"Rest in peace, Joao," Blatter said. "Football — your passion, my mission — is in good shape. You should be proud."