Football: Havelange to retire as Fifa president

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Joao Havelange, the 80-year-old president of Fifa, world football's governing body, has announced that he will retire from the position he has held since 1974, following the World Cup finals in France in 1998.

The Brazilian, who turned 80 in May and who opined only last month he had no intention of stepping down as the top man in world football, said he had changed his mind "after long and careful thought."

Havelange told a news conference at the end of a Fifa executive committee meeting in Barcelona: "I have been thinking about this for some time and I am now ready to go. I don't want to stay on until people say I am gaga. I have my health, all my intellectual abilities and my state of mind is fully intact. The difficult thing in life is not arriving but knowing when to go.

"My mission as president of Fifa is almost at an end and I will leave with a clear conscience that in the 24 years that I will have served Fifa and world football. My administration, with the help of my supporters, has changed the sport throughout the world."

Lennart Johansson of Sweden, the president of Uefa, European football's governing body, and also a Fifa vice-president, will surely be a candidate to replace Havelange - as, probably, will Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, another Fifa vice-president. Johansson has long been a critic of Havelange, who succeeded England's Sir Stanley Rous in 1974.

Two years ago Havelange was re-elected president for a sixth four-year term - but faced frequent flak for his dictatorial style. This year Havelange suffered an unprecedented reverse when he was forced to announce that Fifa would award the 2002 World Cup jointly to South Korea and Japan. Only days earlier Havelange had said that co-hosting World Cup finals was against Fifa statutes and insisted that two nations would never be accepted as co-hosts while he was president.

At Saturday's meeting, Fifa confirmed that the 2002 World Cup final will be held in Japan. With 32 teams taking part, there will be a total of 64 matches, split equally between South Korea and Japan. Fifa also announced that Bosnia will be allowed to play the rest of their 1998 World Cup qualifiers on home ground in Sarajevo.