POSTED: October 3rd 2009

Havelange back as a winner for Rio . . . and for the World Cup

Rio's party . . . with Pele in tears of joy (right)
Rio's party . . . with Pele in tears of joy (right)

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

COPENHAGEN: When Joao Havelange stepped down as president of world football federation FIFA in 1998 – after 24 commanding years – the assumption was that he would fade into honourable retirement from the world of sports politics.

One significant lesson was Friday in Copenhagen was this: Never write off anyone on grounds of age.

The third round of voting came down to a fascinating personal showdown: between Rio de Janeiro’s Havelange, aged 93, and Madrid’s Juan Antonio Samaranch, aged 89, all-powerful president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001.

That Rio (and Havelange) came out as 66-32 winners was a triumph for both men: Havelange because he finished up with the winning vote and Samaranch because, without his influence behind the scenes in the last hours, Madrid would not have come anywhere near as close.

Perhaps Havelange was rewarded for being positive. He had told the IOC that he would be 100 in 2016 and he wanted all the members to join him at the Rio Games for his birthday party.

Samaranch, by contrast, had pointed out that he was coming towards the end of his life and would the IOC grant him one last wish?

Contrasting styles

Contrast in words, contrast in attitudes, contrast in styles.

Havelange will also have taken away from Copenhagen the satisfaction of knowing that Rio’s success - in roundly crushing the challenges of Chicago (Obamas and all), environmentally angst-ridden Tokyo and finally Madrid - may prove the best possible outcome for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup hosting.

Now the country, its government and sporting authorities will come under double focus, a pincer movement of Swiss-based scrutiny: from world football federation FIFA in Zurich and now also from the Lausanne-headquartered International Olympic Committee.

The lingering doubt over Brazil’s 2014 World Cup staging was that the country had it too easy in securing the responsibility.

FIFA’s internal politics had demanded the institution of a host rotation system to ensure the 2010 World Cup went to South Africa. The consequential fall-out meant guaranteeing 2014 to South America – for which Brazil was the only country with the economic and social potential to bid.

Walkover win

Argentina dared not and co-hosting among any of the rest of the CONMEBOL companions was never an option. Thus Brazil landed 2014 on a walkover, by default, a gift. The CBF had to make comparatively little effort and a concern has remained about the depth of the country’s commitment to upgrading stadia, infrastructure, technology and the rest.

Now FIFA is not alone in progress-chasing. The IOC will be on the country’s case as well.

Indeed, the IOC has an extra concern above and beyond all its own: a significant minority among its 100-plus members had fretted that the World Cup hosting might detract and distract Brazil from devoting full attention to the Olympic project.

Presumably, IOC president Jacques Rogge – in his concluding presidency – will ensure that his Brazilian hosting legacy (he steps down in 2013) is a credible one.

Rio had certainly been sensitive to the unique prospect of following a World Cup with the Olympics; no country has ever had that certain prospect. Mexico (Mexico City Games in 1968, World Cup in 1970) then West Germany (Munich 1972, Cup 1974) did it the other way round.

(A discussion for another day is whether the Olympics should be awarded to a country rather than a city. Should, for instance, a nation be expected to guarantee vast domestic sports and infrastrutal spending to benefit just one – usual rich - city rather than the nation as a whole?).

Positive value

Rio had sought to persuade the IOC that the World Cup would be of positive not negative value in building on towards an Olympic Games in Rio. Persisting qualms were reflected in an IOC evaluation report which pondered not so infrastructure issues but whether Olympic commercial and marketing potential would be harmed.

The Brazilians always rejected those fears. Bid secretary-general Carlos Osorio had said: “We always set our marketing targets at a very conservative level and the IOC itself accepted that these were attainable. In any case, the World Cup marketing model is very different because it has a far greater international component. We won’t have any difficulties.

“There are far more benefits. Consider our communications plans. These have have always taken into consideration the World Cup. In some areas they double up. Once the World Cup is over we will have two years in which the Games will have total priority. We are certain we can deliver.”

Football-linked uncertainties over the World Cup meant that, while Pele accompanied the Rio team to Copenhagen and led some of the pre-vote publicity events, he was notably absent from the group who spoke directly to the members of the IOC on Friday morning.

Bid leader Carlos Nuzman did not want the football issue in evidence in any way shape or form even if that form was the one of the IOC’s Athlete of the 20th Century.

Of course, however, Pele rushed to join in the celebrations after the vote had been announced live on worldwide television by Rogge.

Rule change

Personally, Pele had never had any doubts. He had said: “When I was playing for Brazil, between the 1950s and 1970s, we could not play in the Olympic Games because we were professional and the Games were supposed to be for amateurs. By the time the rules changed it was too late for me - so now I want to share the Olympic experience in a different sort of way."

The Games football tournament was dominated between 1952 and 1980 by eastern European countries whose players were officially designated as amateur by their governments.

Soccer legends such as the Soviet Union's Lev Yashin, Hungary's Ferenc Puskas and Poland's Kaziu Deyna were full-time footballers but were paid wages through the various state and trade organisations to which their clubs were affiliated.

The same trick was not open to western Europe and South American nations though Italy's team for their "home" Games in Rome in 1960 did include so-called "students" who included up-and-coming star players such as Milan's Gianni Rivera.

Pele said: “I'm sure Brazil would have won the Olympic gold medal if we could have played our strongest team in those days. We're still waiting. It would be appropriate to win the gold medal at last in front of our own fans."

Now, the Brazilians – in the form of Rio – have won the right to host the Olympics. That, surely, must give their national team the perfect platform from which to win the one international title which has always eluded them.

Keywords · 2016 Olympic Games · 2014 World Cup · Havelange · Pele · Brazil

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