HEART OF FOOTBALL

Former president Havelange started the rot at Fifa House

According to the Bible, Samson brought down the temple with his bare hands. The breaking news from Zurich this weekend seemed almost to cast Sepp Blatter in similar light, threatening to metaphorically pull down Fifa before he leaves the house.

It's a bad analogy, of course.

Blatter is 79, going on 80. He wouldn't have the physical strength to do anything of the kind.

He professes - and has always professed to me or anyone else he talked to - that "The Fifa", as he calls it, is his life, his love, his responsibility.

On Friday evening, officers of the Swiss Attorney General's Office stated that the Fifa president was suspected of signing a contract that was "unfavourable to Fifa" and of making a "disloyal payment" to the head of the European football authority, Michel Platini.

Havelange began his tenure as president in 1974, and in the now completed court case involving Fifa's former marketing partner ISL, evidence emerged of Havelange receiving kick-backs paid by sponsors.

Blatter, and for that matter Platini, are entitled to the legal presumption of innocence until proved guilty of anything.

Yet, the world's media, who just happened to be represented inside Fifa House for a media conference on Friday, were effectively invited by the announcement to aim at the very figurehead of the world's most powerful sporting body.

Blatter has been president since 1998, but as an economics graduate who started at Fifa 50 years ago, he has been either the leader, or the second-in-command to the former president Joao Havelange since 1981.

Havelange, still living in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 99, is the real source of the corrupting of Fifa.

He began his tenure as president in 1974, and in the now-completed court case involving Fifa's former marketing partner ISL, evidence emerged of Havelange receiving kick-backs paid by sponsors.

A German, Horst Dassler of the adidas family, practically invented the golden triangle of sport- television-sponsorship - a three- way split in which broadcasters pay billions to cover tournaments like the World Cup, and multinational companies like adidas, Coca-Cola and McDonald's pay for the privilege of exposure to the markets that sport reaches to a global audience.

It isn't a corrupt triangle but it long ago became an abused and therefore corrupted process.

Sporting officials were no longer guardians but men lining their pockets by siphoning off millions of dollars into their private bank accounts.

The temptations to delegates representing Fifa's 209 states or nations to accept bribes for one-country, one-vote helped contaminate Fifa down the chain, as it did the International Olympic Committee (IOC) years ago.

This is not conjecture. The IOC gutted itself of members after the international media left it little room to hide its own cash-for-votes scandal involving Salt Lake City in America.

Fifa has taken a little longer. Well, 41 years longer, because people like me are obviously failed critics in that we pointed out what Havelange was doing almost from the start, yet nothing changed.

My own reporting annoyed Havelange, Blatter and their minions enough over the years for them to write to editors threatening legal writs. But never, alas, to stop the descent into rampant corruption down to the foundations of Fifa.

A New York District Judge in 2007 ruled that Fifa had reneged on an agreement with one commercial partner, MasterCard to give (sell) its patronage to the rival, Visa.

The judge, Loretta A. Preska, noted that two high-ranked Fifa officials, Chuck Blazer and Jerome Valcke, had lied to her court 13 times.

Judge Preska awarded MasterCard US$100 million (S$142 million) in damages but Visa remains Fifa's "partner".

Valcke, then the commercial director of Fifa, was removed by president Blatter over the case but, six months later, returned to Fifa, promoted to general secretary.

Valcke was put on enforced leave by Blatter a few weeks ago as the investigation from the FBI named him. The Fed, using evidence from Blazer who is a New York citizen and admits to unpaid taxes on money he acquired through television deals on behalf of Fifa, turned informant.

The evidence he gives the FBI, reminds us of the plea bargaining that the old Mafia bosses would give the cops to turn in their mates and alleviate their own time behind bars.

The system itself is unsavoury to many of us but it works for America.

And the FBI made use of it, and of the media spotlight, to make a dawn raid on Fifa at the exclusive Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich to arrest Fifa bigwigs in their beds.

The United States is still trying to get extradition of some of the 14 people arrested. The Fed is playing cops to the world because so few, or none, of the judiciaries in the countries they come from had shown inclination to investigate, never mind arrest people.

The whole affair comes after the voting for Russia to stage the 2018 World Cup, and ludicrously, Qatar in 2022.

Meanwhile, Blatter pleads to be left alone to clean up his own house. He was re-elected president in May but promised to quit office when the FBI fan hit the headlines weeks later.

The new election will, unless the House really does come down, take place next February. The candidates are Platini, Prince Ali of Jordan, former Brazilian player Zico, South Korean Chung Mong Joon, and Liberia's FA president Musa Bility.

Of those, Platini is now helping the Swiss police with their investigation. And Chung is the only one to my knowledge who ever confronted Havelange and Blatter over the way they ran Fifa.

For his pains, Chung was voted out of the Asian Football Confederation, and out of Fifa. He wrote a memoir upon leaving, describing Blatter as a smart man, "not a gentleman, but an enfant terrible".

I may be wrong but I suspect Chung is too open and has too many enemies within Fifa to be elected its president.

That is unless Fifa itself is disbanded and an independent, outside force of real integrity could be found to replace it.

PS: How I wish, being a sports writer, that this column could have been about the remarkable beauty, the rare coordination, of those five goals that Robert Lewandowski scored for Bayern Munich last week. Another time, perhaps.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2015, with the headline 'Former president Havelange started the rot at Fifa House'. Print Edition | Subscribe