Disgraced former football official Jack Warner has paid a heartfelt tribute to former FIFA president Joao Havelange, who died aged 100 in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.
Havelange served as FIFA president between 1974 and 1998, during which time he transformed world football’s governing body into a financial powerhouse through a succession of lucrative television rights and sponsorship deals.
He oversaw the expansion of the World Cup finals from 16 to 32 nations and secured a powerbase in football’s developing nations that was also enjoyed by his successor Sepp Blatter.
Like Blatter and Warner, Havelange’s career was also dogged by controversy and allegations of impropriety.
In 2013, he stepped down from his position as FIFA’s honorary president following an investigation into bribery allegations, with the organisation’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert describing Havelange’s conduct as “morally and ethically reproachable”.
But Warner gushed in praise of a former colleague he credited with changing the fortunes of football comprehensively.
In a statement, he said: “Today world football has lost a friend. I dreaded this day. The man who changed the face of football for ever, saved it from ignominy and transformed it into the beautiful game is no more.
“When Dr Joao Havelange ascended, the football throne the sport was virtually bankrupt but by the time he left, it had become the most affluent sport in the global village.
“He was one of the most progressive thinkers who was never starved for ideas and the quantum leap that took place in the sport was as a result of his vision which he shared even after he officially took his exit from football.”
Warner went on to specifically mention the CONCACAF Centre of Excellence named in Havelange’s honour in Macoya – the complex that has been a huge source of controversy in Caribbean football.
Despite allegations to the contrary, Warner maintains the facility was a gift from Havelange that is owned by the Caribbean Football Union and not himself.
“His greatest contribution to Caribbean football is the gift of the Centre of Excellence in Macoya that he gave to the Warner family, which carries his name and which, ironically, is now a point of contention in our courts,” Warner’s statement continued.
“But what he has achieved has left no doubt in anyone’s mind, no suspicion among those he touched and no misgiving among those who benefited from his stewardship.
“To his immediate family, my family and I do express our condolences. After 100 years my friend will most certainly rest in peace.”