Matthew Monk


 
Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Catching up with the Big Man and his Protégé



    An event arguably as important to the world game as this summer's long awaited tournament is going to take place in Zurich this Thursday. Sepp Blatter is going to face FIFA's Executive Committee to answer charges of corruption and financial mismanagement. At stake is the future of the game for the next twenty years, and also the legacy of Joao Havelange - all the decisions and back room deals that have turned a sixteen team football competition into the planet's biggest sporting, social, cultural and political event will be on trial.

    Blatter will be fighting for his political life. He is accused of allowing such financial mismanagement that FIFA (with access to billions of dollars worth of television and sponsorship money) has overspent so much that its much heralded 'World Club Championship' is in its death throes after only one edition, and that it is already spending money based on expected revenues from the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Worse though, the events of June 1998 are catching up with him once more. The allegations that he bought the FIFA presidency would just not go away, and now with Somalian delegates claiming that they were bribed to vote for him, the heat is very much being turned up.

    All of a sudden Blatter's much expected second term as FIFA president looks in danger. He is losing confidence so fast in fact that by the time we reach Korea on May 31 he might not even be president anymore.

    The implications for this are huge, and utterly misunderstood by football fans at large. For the first time since 1974 when Havelange, Horst Dassler and Patrick Nally wrested control of FIFA from Sir Stanley Rous and his European bureaucrats, we could be on the verge of seeing control of the most important body in sport shift. And with this shift the whole future of the tournament could be radically redirected, with Asia and Africa taking control of football.

    The situation is actually quite clear. If Blatter blusters through and deflects these latest allegations, he will go onto the FIFA congress in Korea stronger and probably more in charge than ever. The Havelange legacy will be safe and will go on, possibly not with Blatter for much longer, but instead with the likes of Michael Zen-Ruffinen and Michel Platini increasingly to the fore. However if Blatter is discredited and cannot wriggle free then a new UEFA-CAF-AFC axis will take over at the top, committed (at least in part) to a more democratic structure, with a more equal distribution of FIFA income and World Cup places among the different confederations. This is something worth thinking about. By the time Senegal and France start the World Cup we could have Africa or Asia in charge of FIFA for the first time. And with that the case a story of sleaze, corruption, bullying and thirst for power that started in Brazil over thirty years ago will be over.

    Blatter was ordained in Paris four years ago as Havelange's chosen successor. He emerged from behind the Brazilian's shadow slowly, over the space of nearly twenty years. Originally, Blatter came to FIFA from Swiss Timing-Longines in 1975, and became General Secretary in November 1981 when Havelange sacked Helmut Kaser - a man who simply refused to work with the money-mad regime.

    Blatter learned his trade at Adidas however, directly underneath Horst Dassler, who together with Patrick Nally coaxed Coca Cola, Gillette, Seiko and all the other original transnational sponsors into the FIFA fold. Blatter was an administrator, someone born to organise. His role was to arrange Havelange's travel plans, and to make sure his boss was always able to see the correct President or Prime Minister when he arrived in a new country. In other words Blatter did the unglamorous, behind the scenes work that Havelange thought was beneath the president of FIFA. And he also helped to distribute the travel expenses and gifts so lavishly dealt out by FIFA to any useful dignitary.

    To most eyes Blatter was the face of FIFA - he made the draws and gave the interviews before and during the World Cup. He was the friendly face that made sure all the different coloured balls went into the correct drums, and that the South American or African teams were kept apart during the oh-so complicated draws, or spoke to camera whenever Havelange made a pronouncement. He was a mouthpiece, a PR man. And he was also utterly involved in all the bribes, corruption, pay-offs and 'special gifts' that so characterise the Havelange-Blatter management style. Indeed this started even before Havelange took control of FIFA. From 1969 to 1973 Dr Joao travelled the world, calling on every sporting or political official he felt could help him replace Stanley Rous.

    Rous, of course, was utterly oblivious to any of this. He thought that he had done enough to happily carry on for at least four more years to 1978, when another pair of safe European hands (like Artemio Franchi or Hermann Neuberger) would take over. Today many commentators look back on the Rous days as FIFA's golden age - the days of Pele and Puskas, Di Stefano and Yashin, Beckenbauer and Moore, when matches were hard fought but honourable and politics were kept out of sport. This though misses the point that the World Cup was a South American and European closed shop, were entry to developing nations was available only after the most torturous process. This led to a sustained campaign against Rous in Africa and Asia, which was first evidenced by the African boycott of 1966. Worse still, Rous championed the rights of Apartheid ridden South Africa throughout the 1960s and right up to his final days in 1973. He was blind to the obvious racism and discrimination that was destroying South Africa, and refused to even consider a sporting boycott as a means to overthrow the insidious regime. And as this cost him any hope of African and Asian votes, he similarly threw away the Soviet-bloc vote (and therefore half of Europe) by ignoring the protests of the Soviet Union who were ordered to play Chile in a qualifier in the same ground where political prisoners were tortured - in full view of a FIFA observation team, who had been in Chile at the time.

    All the time Havelange was courting these votes, promising new tournaments and extra places at future finals - and spending the equivalent of $5 million in the process. Whole continents were lobbied to vote for him by specially chosen 'influential men', all of who received lavish 'travel expenses' for their trouble. And Havelange duly became FIFA president.

    The first tournament of the Havelange-Blatter years was held in 1978, in military controlled Argentina, where the widespread use of torture was part of everyday life. Instead of taking the tournament off Argentina (as Amnesty International and many European players had begged) Havelange happily let the military take full charge, under General Omar Actis.

    Actis was an unusual member of the junta - he seemed worried about keeping costs under control and planned to speak out against a FIFA sponsored plan to build a new stadium at Mar del Plata and install a new colour television system in Argentina. This FIFA wanted so that all the Coca Cola and Gillette adverts would look good on European televisions - how could such a modern game be seen in black and white? Actis died - murdered - before he could give his speech. His death was blamed on the Montoneros rebels, thirty of whose supporters were found mutilated in a Buenos Aires suburb the next day, yet no substantiated link was ever found. Indeed, the junta were more than happy to have rid of him. Quickly forgotten, he was replaced by Captain (and soon to be Admiral) Carlos Lacoste, a minor FIFA official. He was much more in tune with junta (and FIFA) policy, and promptly spent $700 million. This insane amount was more than was spent in 1982, when 8 more teams were present and the Camp Nou and Bernabeu were almost wholly refitted.

    So how was so much money spent? Well first, the new colour television system was installed at incredible cost, although in the end only Europeans and Argentineans in press centres actually saw these pictures - the rest made do with cheap, black and white images. Second, Mar del Plata stadium was built (ignoring the fact that Boca Juniors' huge La Bombonera ground sat unused) and watered with seawater - which promptly killed the expensive grass - and all the other stadiums were refitted at any cost. Next, Lacoste had to pay out millions of dollars worth of bribes and pay-offs to keep all the generals and admirals happy. As Omar Actis and the hundreds of thousands of other victims had found out, make enemies of the junta at your peril. Finally there was the small matter of bribing an entire country, Peru, to make sure that Argentina and not Brazil reached the final. This was a huge bribe. First, at least 35 000 tonnes of grain were sent from Argentina to Peru, then $50 million of bank credit was 'loaned' to the Peruvian junta - much of which ended up in the bank accounts of Peru's top generals and admirals. Finally, specially selected members of the Peru team were given gifts of $20 000 each. They duly lost the game 6:0, and Brazil went out on goal difference.

    Following the finals, Admiral Lacoste was promoted rapidly within FIFA and became one of Havelange's most trusted officials and confidantes. In 1978 Havelange had embraced the generals following Argentina's victory in the final, and then proclaimed that 'the true face of Argentina could be seen'. He would not forget what Lacoste and his friends had done for him quickly.

    By 1984, the junta had fallen and Lacoste was accused of war crimes, specifically implicated in the murder of Omar Actis. Havelange defended him to the hilt, refusing to remove him from his FIFA post. Eventually, under increasing pressure from the new, civilian Argentine government, Lacoste resigned, but not before two major financial irregularities came to light. First, it emerged that Havelange had loaned Lacoste millions of dollars to purchase land in Uruguay. Lacoste claimed he got the money from 'a bank'. Secondly, it became clear that up to 25% of the insurance policies for Argentina 78 had been provided by Havelange's own insurance company, and that Lacoste had been instrumental in awarding them. Havelange and his new General Secretary Joseph Blatter blamed all this on Helmut Kaser.

    The period between 1978 and 1994 saw Havelange dominate the sporting world, getting his friend Juan Antonio Samaranch elected president of the IOC, and was also a time of massive spending. FIFA rebuilt its own office complex in Zurich at massive expense, while Havelange (who boasted of never being paid by FIFA) claimed millions of dollars worth of 'expenses' each year. In 1982 Havelange decided that Colombia (chosen in 1974 in the last days of Rous) should no longer host the 1986 World Cup. Another of the FIFA vice presidents (and personal friends of Havelange) was Guillermo Canedo of Televisa, the Mexican television conglomerate. Together they arranged for Mexico to take over the hosting of the 1986 finals, and utterly ignored the USA's bid. Money talks.

    All the time Blatter was watching, and learning. He moved up the FIFA hierarchy seamlessly, joining committee after committee and becoming second only to Havelange himself. One of his main tasks was helping his boss pay-off some old debts and create some new opportunities by helping Samaranch get the 1992 Summer Olympics for his home city of Barcelona instead of Paris. To do this, Havelange lobbied IOC delegates against Paris, while supporting a bid for the 1992 Winter Olympics to go to Albertville, also in France. Unwritten IOC rules said that no country could host both versions of the Olympics at the same time, thus by giving France the smaller prize he could help Samaranch and Barcelona. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what happened. Again millions of dollars worth of travel expenses were claimed, and gifts given.

    It was also during this period Havelange was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize - by the Swiss football association! Coincidentally, Switzerland was bidding for the 1998 World Cup. France won that competition, not long after Havelange had lost out in the Nobel Prize. Now what would have happened if he had won the prize is anyone's guess. However, the odds on France winning the 1998 World Cup would have been substantially longer.

    So by 1994, Havelange was seemingly in a position of total power. After conquering the USA he turned his attentions to his final flourish, a thirty-two-team tournament in France and then his final tournament in Japan. But this was not to be. Havelange misread the political situation as badly as Rous did in the 1960s. First his all out support of Japan was so obviously motivated by money that even he could not disguise his activities. As South Korea made ground in Europe, Havelange and Blatter tried to force Africa, Asia and the Americas to vote for Japan. However, Japan had no football culture, had never played in the finals, and did not even have a domestic league. They did however have JVC, Seiko and Dentsu (FIFA's favourite advertising agency) and Havelange always repaid favours. So he rubbished Korea at every opportunity and promoted Japan. Realising Africa had won him a vote before he set off to attract support by visiting another military regime, this time in Nigeria. Times had changed since 1978 though - shaking hands with military dictators, especially as they were executing human rights activists, was no longer considered a good political move.

    Blatter saw his chance. He travelled to a UEFA meeting and in a private meeting promised to help remove Havelange if he could become the new FIFA President. He told the meeting how he could produce evidence of corruption and illegal activity, and how he was desperate to give UEFA control again. Unfortunately he failed to realise how badly he came over by this. Why would UEFA or anyone want to support Blatter if he was only now bringing to light evidence of wrongdoing that he must have seen happening years before? When he got outside the closed meeting he told the press UEFA had begged him to stand against Havelange, and how he said no. Soon after Havelange announced his retirement - albeit with 'honour' intact at the end of long reign.

    Havelange would have been expected to turn on Blatter now, but instead after a period of reflection decided that he knew too much for that. If Blatter fell, so would Havelange. There would be awkward questions and investigations if UEFA got control. Havelange still needed Blatter. So he set out to get him elected. It was 1973 all over again.

    Havelange and Blatter hit Africa, and called in a few favours. Standing against Blatter was Lennart Johansson of UEFA, and he ran a campaign calling for transparency and democracy. He was up against too smooth an operator in Havelange though. With most of Africa falling into line, Havelange and Blatter called on their Asian contacts, in particular several oil-rich Middle Eastern millionaires.

    The election was held at the 1998 Paris Congress. Hot favourite Johansson was defeated 111 votes to 80 in only one round. Even Havelange had needed two in 1974. As Johansson went off to work out how he had lost, stories of a mystery man, and two million dollars in brown envelopes, came out. Johansson delegates suggested that these charges would be investigated in good time, but first they would see how several European votes (such as the British) had changed to Blatter late on. This was another piece of classic Havelange real politick - when he visited Tony Blair in 1997 he had promised the 2006 World Cup to England, in return for a favour when needed. He did exactly the same thing when he met Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Both voted for Blatter. Neither got the World Cup.

    The allegations of vote buying did not go away, but with no one willing to go on the record they remained unsubstantiated. Then Blatter hit his own financial scandal once the first World Club Championship (one of Havelange's long term projects) made such a loss that the ISL marketing money was overspent many times over. ISL collapsed leaving FIFA without its marketing partner months before the most heavily marketed World Cup in its history got under way. Questions started to be asked how an organisation like FIFA that boasts that football makes $400 billion per year could not balance its books. People started to go back into the old records, and questioned the culture of expenses. Blatter was on the ropes, but not yet out. He was a new President; it was too soon for him to sweep the organisation clean.

    He seemed to get away with it. The questions still came, but they didn't make the papers anymore. And in any case, UEFA was not ready to mount a challenge yet, they would bide their time and wait. Michel Platini got more airtime, as did Michael Zen-Ruffinen - fresh, untainted faces. Blatter and the Havelange legacy looked like riding the storm. Until the Somalian delegates from 1998 said publicly that they had been bribed to vote for Blatter. They were willing to give statements. Blatter was in big trouble. Only UEFA can save Blatter and Havelange now.

    Issa Hayatou of CAF and Chung Mong Joon of the Korean FA are ready to challenge Blatter in June, deciding soon just who will run for president. They are both serious contenders, being able to count on a huge block vote. But are they acceptable to UEFA? Does UEFA want to cede power to Asia and Africa, or is it ready to go into partnership with them to create a powerful axis of shared power? UEFA has troubles of its own without having to take on Asia and Africa wanting more and more say, and more and more TV money. UEFA has been engaged in this situation in Europe already with the G14 clubs, an increasingly powerful block that can tell UEFA what to do, and has already forced it into expanding the Champions League and siphoning off more money to the top clubs. Will it now let an Asian or African FIFA President be in charge of a main part of its revenue? Or will they stay with Blatter for another four years while they groom a successor?

    Will it be a case of the better the devil you know than the devil you don't? We will know sometime after 6pm on Thursday.


 

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