James Corrigan: Havelange's legacy as the godfather of greed
The Way I See It: At 95, he has retired with ill health in the days before he was due to face charges of alleged corruption
Monday 12 December 2011
Finally, in the last years of his life, Joao Havelange had the chance to do the right thing. He did not have to take the cowardly route and resign from the International Olympic Committee before an ethics hearing into his conduct. The old rogue could have accepted whatever punishment, whatever dishonour they might have thrown at him. And thus shown his successors the price that may well have to be paid.
But this is no James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces, this is no hero willing to sacrifice his reputation to save the souls of those who idolise him. This is reality, a reality where a 95-year-old is allowed to release a statement that he is retiring with "ill health" and nobody points out that "ill health" comes with the territory of lasting until you are 95.
Just think, after half-a-century of sporting administration, his health consents to deteriorate in the week before he is to discuss allegations of corruption – which he denies. What a coincidence. The odds must be many hundreds to one. Unless you are a cynic, that is. And then the odds would be somewhere in the region of one to a hundred.
No, this wasn't an original ploy. Indeed, anything but. The last IOC member to resign from the IOC to escape the ethics committee? Kim Un-yong of South Korea, who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for corruption and who was accused by prosecutors of turning sports bodies into private enterprises.
Sports bodies are and will remain private enterprises until the guilty are held to account, until these godfathers of greed are uprooted. The only compliment which can be extended to the IOC is that it is not Fifa. Because of the Salt Lake scandal – where votes were bought with the shamelessness of dope in Amsterdam – the IOC is on a purifying process. Good on it. Except peer closer and it had the power to pass judgement on Havelange regardless of his resignation. Instead, it closed his case. The question has to be why? After all Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, said on Thursday: "The wider world would agree that IOC means business and that the IOC is accountable and transparent."
In truth, the wider world does not give a monkey's. There is a general shrug of the shoulders followed by a "What can we do?" So the likes of Rogge can stand at their lectern and mouth off about transparency and other hogwash and there behind the hyperbole of the headlines, Lamine Diack – no less than the president of international athletics – and Issa Hayatou, the head of African football, are hit by nothing stronger than a warning and a reprimand after admitting receiving payments from a company at the centre of a corruption affair. It cannot be argued the IOC means business. Yet we all know how pure the world of business has become.
And so the grime remains and so those such as Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, is allowed to glad-hand his way down Planet Earth's corridors of power like some leader of state. Havelange was the pioneer who cleared the path to mythical importance and for that reason is inevitably regarded as a deity within Fifa.
Take Chuck Blazer, a long-time member of the Fifa executive committee. He is the chap with the big beard who earlier this year accused of Mohammed bin Hammam, the head of Asian football, and Jack Warner, the Fifa vice-president, of bribery. Then, goodness gracious me, the FBI confirmed it was examining documents recording more than $500,000 in payments made by the Caribbean Football Union to a certain Chuck Blazer. Time for Blazer to fight for his reputation. Or, of course, to stand down as the general secretary of Concacaf. Wouldn't you know, he took the latter option. The plot thickens. Just like putrid manure thickens.
Who is Blazer's football hero, as listed on his Fifa biography? Pele, perchance? Lionel Messi, maybe? Erm, no. It's Havelange, that former Olympic swimmer who is still the honorary president of Fifa. It was Havelange who spotted the potential for live football on TV, and, naturally, for huge contracts therafter, and it was Havelange who created the monster which is Fifa today. Genius or coward? You decide.
But then you will have to decide on so many of the top sports officials who have walked away. On Warner, who resigned before the ethics committee could get to him; on Kim Un-yong, on Blazer, and now on the biggest shark in the sea. What will it take for one of those to be brought to the stand, because that is what's required. For Fifa to say: "No, you can't run, we will still judge you."
Next Saturday, Blatter will receive a dossier detailing the examinations from an external committee which was asked to investigate the collapse of the company at the heart of most of the corruption allegations. An as yet undisclosed outside body will then advise Blatter and Co on what action to take if it finds any members guilty. Should Havelange be worried? Should he hell. What's the worst thing that can happen? He resigns. So what? What a legacy to leave. Devils with Clean Faces.
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