Africa

Joao Havelange, the unlikely godfather of African football

South African President Nelson Mandela speaks next to Fifa President Joao Havelange (L) in South Africa - 12 January 1996 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Havelange (L) banned South Africa from Fifa in 1976, a ban that lasted until after Nelson Mandela (R) was released from jail

Joao Havelange, the former Fifa president who has died at his home in Rio de Janeiro aged 100, could be regarded as the unlikely godfather of African football.

He famously owed the developing world for his presidential election in 1974 - and despite the allegations of corruption that mired his career towards the end of his life, he is credited with huge globalisation of the game.

The canny sports administrator had done his maths on the voting system, realising that he needed to court Africa and Asia in order to win - an insight lost on his main rival in the leadership contest for football's world governing body.

The Brazilian came to power on the back of African votes - which then accounted for nearly a third of the total - primarily because his predecessor, Englishman Stanley Rous, had alienated the continent through his unremitting support for apartheid South Africa.

Image copyright David Cannon/Getty Images
Image caption Cameroon became the first African nation to reach the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990, following Havelange's drive to expand the tournament

His standing was greatly boosted by the three World Cups Brazil won under his control as Brazilian Sports Confederation president, and the former Olympian adroitly exploited the issue and pledged to kick out South Africa if he took control.

There were other promises to the continent as well: An expanded World Cup, new youth tournaments and, among others, developmental help.

So, after his election, it was time to give back.

With Rous out of the way, Havelange dealt with South Africa fairly swiftly, expelling the country from Fifa in 1976, a ban which lasted until 1992, as the end of apartheid neared.

He also introduced junior tournaments - handing Tunisia the first hosting rights, in 1977, for what is called the Under-20 World Cup today.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The 2010 World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the first to be held on the continent, may never have happened without Havelange

Eight years later, he ensured Africa had the same representation as Europe and South America in the Under-17 World Cup, in contrast to the senior World Cup, as the tournament launched in 1985.

He was slightly hamstrung with his World Cup offer despite overseeing vast global expansion - having partnered with Horst Dassler, the son of the Adidas founder and the father of sports sponsorship.

With the help of improving television broadcast technology and football's hugely attractive lure for sponsors, the pair greatly enhanced football's global reach, Fifa's coffers and - as has been well documented - those of Havelange too.

Africa was not a huge market for sponsors at the time though and had to patiently wait for its World Cup places to increase from one to two in 1982, when the finals expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

From 20 footballs to $500,000

In the interim, Havelange offered a host of developmental programmes and increased funding.

Fifa's finances had previously been so threadbare Rous had been limited on one occasion to handing out 20 footballs to one African country.

Today, each African country receives $500,000 (£380,000) a year as a continuation of the funding grants initiated by Havelange.

Image copyright All Sport
Image caption Joao Havelange was accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes

A year after his election, Havelange chose someone who came to love African football (and its voting power) to head Fifa's global developmental work: Sepp Blatter.

In 1976, the Fifa technical director's first overseas trip was to Ethiopia where he ran an administrative course.

When the Swiss protege replaced Havelange in the 1998 Fifa elections, he continued to assist Africa in a variety of ways.

Prominent among them was the change to Fifa's method of determining a World Cup host, a decision taken to ensure that Africa got the World Cup, having controversially missed out on the 2006 finals.

As the 2010 finals kicked off in South Africa, the work started by Havelange in Africa had reached its current zenith.

Like the organisation he led for so long, Havelange was far from faultless but his campaign manifesto forced him to help Africa - which he did, despite various delays.

Today, the five World Cup places that he awarded Africa during his reign is the tally the continent still holds.


More African sports reporting from Piers Edwards:


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