Havelange was a visionary, says Rio Games chief
Bribe-tainted Joao Havelange was one of the most important people in sport in the 20th century, said 2016 Rio de Janeiro supremo and senior International Olympic Committee member Carlos Nuzman on Friday.
The 70-year-old Nuzman, who was the driving force behind Rio becoming the first South American city to win the right to host the Olympics when they won in 2009, said he would not comment on the claims made about Havelange which came to light last week.
Court documents released revealed that Havelange, now 96 and FIFA president for 24 years before his long time secretary-general Sepp Blatter replaced him, pocketed at least 1.5m Swiss francs (£986,000) and FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira at least 12.74m.
The bribes, made by International Sport and Leisure (ISL), were detailed in documents made public by Switzerland's supreme court last Wednesday.
FIFA's discredited Swiss-based marketing partner collapsed in 2001 with debts of around $300 million.
However, Nuzman, who received prominent support from Havelange during the Rio bid with the FIFA strongman pledging to invite everyone to his 100th birthday on the famed Copacabana Beach should Rio win the race, refused to desert his compatriot despite the furore.
"This is an internal problem for FIFA," said Nuzman, speaking after opening an art exhibition celebrating Brazilian culture at Somerset House in central London.
"President Havelange was one of the most important people in 20th century sport like Juan Antonio Samaranch (long-time IOC president who stepped down in 2001).
"He changed football. However, I cannot give an opinion on the FIFA matter."
Havelange, whose name is set to adorn the main Olympics stadium for the 2016 Games, has been dogged by the fallout from the ISL deal for years.
Last December the increasingly frail former Olympic water polo player pre-empted probably being stripped of his IOC membership, he was the longest serving member with 48 years under his belt, when he resigned days before appearing before an ethics commission over what were then merely allegations.
Havelange competed at two Olympic Games in 1936 in Berlin as a swimmer and then in the 1952 edition in Helsinki in water polo.
Like the late duo of Samaranch and Italian Primo Nebiolo in athletics he is credited with modernising and commercialising sports in the 20th century.