The Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) Honorary President João Havelange resignation was made public Tuesday following the publication of an internal ethics committee repot that implicated him in a $155.4 million bribery scandal. The 96 year-old Brazilian national served as FIFA president from 1974 to 1988.
Havelange and his son-in-law, former Brazilian Football Confederation President Ricardo Teixeira, allegedly received bribes from the Swiss-based International Sport and Leisure (ISL) in exchange for exclusive rights to market the World Cup to some of the world’s biggest brands from 1992 to 2000. They were found guilty of "morally and ethically reproachable conduct" by FIFA ethics court judge Joachim Eckert. Although accepting the bribes at the time was not a crime given that FIFA’s ethics code came into force in 2012, Eckert found that they should not have accepted the money, and believes that they should pay it back as it was “in connection with the exploitation of media rights.”
FIFA has been plagued by controversy in recent years with corruption charges at every level. Most recently, FIFA’s leadership, including President Sepp Blatter, was accused of selling votes to Qatar’s bidding committee leading up to its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. The international governing body has also taken steps to address widespread match-fixing scandals and rampant on-the-pitch-racism against players of color.
Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi won the 2011 Balon d’Or (Golden Ball) yesterday during a ceremony in Zurich. The FC Barcelona striker and captain of the Argentine national team became the first player to win it three years in a row. The Balon d’Or is given to the best all-around player for club and country and is soccer’s top individual honor granted by the Féderation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body. Only former Frech captain Zinedine Zidane and Brazilian legend Ronaldo have won the award three times.
2011 was a record-setting year for 24-year-old Messi. He won the La Liga Player of the Year after scoring 55 goals for FC Barcelon, was deemed Man of the Match in the team’s Champions League victory over Manchester United and won the 2010-2011 UEFA Best Player in Europe award. The Argentine received 47.9 percent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains as well as select reporters. Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 21.6 percent and Spanish midfielder (and Messi’s teammate on Barcelona) Xavi got 9.2 percent to finish third for the third year in a row.
As Messi continues to rack up more awards in his young career, he also finds time to stay active off the field. In 2007, he founded the Leo Messi Foundation, which provides access to education and health care for at-risk children in Argentina and also serves as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. To learn more about how Messi and five other top athletes are giving back, check out the “Good Sports” feature in the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff kicks off a week-long European tour in Brussels today and tomorrow, where she will address the Fifth EU-Brazil Summit. Key items on the agenda are the Euro debt crisis and the EU-Mercosur free-trade agreement (FTA).
Specifically, Rousseff is expected to announce that Brazil will not be contributing to the European Financial Stability Facility, as was once discussed among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) bloc of advanced emerging economies. Also, as she did in her opening address to the United Nations last month, Rousseff will make the case for greater inclusion among developing nations in global growth schemes, and her opposition to economic policies among groups of developed countries—like the EU—that she considers protectionist.
Rousseff also seeks to advance dialogue on the EU-Mercosur FTA, where negotiations had been stalled for years but have progressed quickly since being re-launched in 2010. However, key sticking points remain, including recent measures by Brazil to raise import tariffs on cars and European concerns of losing market share in its agricultural industry—given Brazil’s strong farming sector. A deal is anticipated to be signed in 2012.
Rousseff will also discuss Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup with FIFA President Sepp Blatter while in Brussels. She will then continue to Bulgaria to visit her father’s homeland, and then conclude her visit in Turkey, a key ally in the Muslim world.
The question of whether to institute in-game technology in the World Cup has been a consideration for FIFA year after year. Yet one of strongest voices against the idea is the federation’s president, Sepp Blatter. Given that this year’s World Cup has been riddled with disallowed goals and unflagged offsides, Blatter is starting to change his stance on the matter. Following two incorrect, game-changing calls in the round of 16, Blatter has publicly apologized on Tuesday to the fans and players of England and Mexico, who were both knocked out of the tournament on Sunday.
In addition to his apology, Blatter agreed to re-open talks on the one issue that he has actively opposed for decades: instituting in-game technology in all FIFA-sanctioned matches. Such technology could have prevented both of Sunday’s missed calls, which included a clear offside goal from Argentina’s Carlos Tevez against Mexico, and a disallowed goal for England’s Frank Lampard.
After barely qualifying to play in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this year, Argentina breezed through group play yesterday defeating Greece, 2-0 and securing a spot in the knockout round of the tournament. The Albicelestes allowed only one goal in group play by the South Korean team, who will accompany the Argentines into the next phase of the tournament.
Argentina’s performance is a turn around for a team whose entry into the tournament wasn’t secured until their last match in the World Cup qualifiers. Stars like Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez, and Javier Mascherano, have regained their form and have thus far fulfilled expectations.
Arguably, however, Argentina faced no major challengers in group play. The next round will present tougher competitors like Mexico, where there will be no room for errors or slow starts. Overall, Latin America has performed better than most other regions, with six of seven teams either already advancing, or with good odds of advancing in the coming days.
Each World Cup brings a new storyline, and this one is no different. The rise of African football, the year that Spain finally met expectations, the return of England to World Cup prominence; all of these and others have been mooted as possibilities for 2010. But to this point, all have proven a bust. In fact, having just watched Chile defeat Switzerland, the real story of this year’s competition is the dominance of the Western Hemisphere.
Latin American nations, as well as the United States, have not lost one game yet in the preliminary rounds, except for Honduras’ 1-0 defeat by another Latin American nation, Chile, and 2-0 to Spain. With the final game left to play in the opening round, it’s likely that no fewer than six or even seven of the eight Western Hemisphere representatives will go through, almost half of the final 16 in the quarter finals. This contrasts with the underperforming Europeans, only one of which (Holland) is at the top of its group. England, Germany, and Italy have all underperformed, whereas the French have just been inept, poetic justice for the handball that brought them through qualifying against the Irish. Portugal looked languid until a wipeout of North Korea; Spain needed to play the weakest team in the tournament from the Western Hemisphere to notch its first points.
Head to head, Western Hemisphere against Europe, the results have so far been amazing. Chile has knocked off Switzerland, which earlier beat Spain. Paraguay defeated Slovakia and tied Italy; Mexico defeated France; the United States tied both England and Slovenia.