Who was Joao Havelange, the lawyer who allegedly bribed voters before the FIFA presidential elections in 1974?

Fifa is the governing body of the sport we all love. The federation controls the beautiful game as we see it. A major change in the entity took place when Joao Havelange became president in 1974. There were many rumors about how he became president that year.

Joao Havelange and Stanley Rous (Credit – CNN & InsideTheGames)

Before analyzing the conduct of the elections, the candidate who presented himself in front of Havelange was Stanley Rous. For context, he was a referee and president of FIFA from 1961 to 1974. There have been recent developments that have come to light, in that Joao went to beat Stanley.

How did Joao Havelange beat Stanley Rous in the 1974 FIFA presidential elections?

Netflix has released a new documentary, titled “FIFA exposed“. The series dives deep into the world’s governing body of football, FIFA. It showed us that there is a whole new world out there that we football fans haven’t seen in decades. In the first episode of the series, it was mentioned that Joao Havelange faced Stanley Rous in the 1974 FIFA presidential elections.

And the interesting fact was how Joao came out on top in this election. According to Ernesto Rodrigues, who is Joao Havelange’s biographer, the Brazilian lawyer distributed “brown envelopes” to delegates at a hotel in Frankfurt, Germany. He claims in the series, “Of course it happened. It definitely happened.”

Stanley garnered 52 votes in the presidential elections. On the other, Joao emerged victorious with 68 votes. Ernesto claimed that Havelange’s arrival at FIFA marked the arrival of capitalism at the federation. During his speech, Joao mentioned that he has his sights set on his ambitions after becoming president. But there was a huge problem, FIFA had no source of income back then.

How has Joao Havelange helped FIFA generate more revenue?

Joao obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Law at the Faculty of Law of the Federal University of Fluminese. It was one of the most important and reputable law institutions at the time. Before entering the world of football, he was a professional swimmer. Interestingly, he represented his country Brazil at the 1936 Summer Olympics.

He had a chance to rise to the presidency of FIFA after serving as vice-president and president of the Brazilian Sports Confederation. As mentioned earlier, FIFA had no income coming in for Joao to develop the game, as he promised the committee during election campaigns. To solve this problem, he contacted Horst Dassler, then owner of the company.

According to the new Netflix series, the couple got closer and discussed how to increase FIFA revenue. One of the ways they did this was by sponsoring brands. Dassler agreed to sponsor the World Cups organized by FIFA in exchange for the marketing rights. In addition to this, FIFA has also signed contracts with Coca-Cola. These two great brands were the face of the World Cups in their early days.

João Havelange and Horst Dassler
Joao Havelange and Horst Dassler (Credit – The Times & Imago Images)

However, the series indicates that Dassler deposited money directly into Havelange’s pockets, to grab the marketing rights to the World Cups. Football was a huge sport even then and it continued to develop at a rapid pace. Both understood this and knew they had to take advantage of it. This happened through the company International Sport and Leisure (ISL), which Dassler himself founded.

Sepp Blatter, then secretary general of FIFA, discovered the transactions between Dassler and Havelange. Blatter has been central to FIFA’s approach to generating more revenue. He helped Joao implement the ideas to ensure the federation earned more money. However, it was not in the plan that Havelange and Dassler were plotting in terms of rights and money coming in and going out.

What Was Joao Havelange Net Worth?

Meanwhile, Dassler accidentally sent money to FIFA’s account. It was a mistake the German made back then. According to the documentary, it was “a million and a half”. Blatter understood this and knew he had to jump at this opportunity. According to Guido Tognoni, a former adviser to Blatter, it was a “beautiful icing” on the cake for Sepp Blatter.

Sepp Blatter and João Havelange
Sepp Blatter and Joao Havelange (Credit – InsideTheGames & Wikimedia Commons)

After Blatter took on Havelange, the duo agreed that the latter would remain FIFA President for 4 more years. When the time came, Joao resigned from his post and Sepp declared himself one of the presidential candidates. As for Joao, his tenure as FIFA President was over.

According to Bleacher Report, approximately $49 million was received in the form of a bribe by Joao and Ricardo Teixeira, as mentioned in court documents. This happened in the space of 8 years. It was discovered that Joao provided the ISL and Dassler-run Adidas with the marketing, radio and TV rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

Although he didn’t end up as FIFA president as he would have liked, Joao made a lot of money. He may have earned millions during his reign at the federation. Reports put his net worth at around $4-5 million. The Brazilian died that year, aged 100.

Jon J. Epps