Playing for power: João Havelange's path to FIFA 1958-1974

Photo: Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo/Wikimedia

João Havelange in 1982. Photo: Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo /Wikimedia

Focusing on the relations between João Havelange and the military regime in Brazil, this article elucidates how the longest serving president of FIFA rose to power.

This article aims to clarify the process through which João Havelange, the longest serving president of FIFA, got elected to the entity for the first time in 1974. The focus is to analyze the agreements made by him at the political level, especially with the Brazilian military dictatorship, in order to rise to power at the international football body.

The starting point is 1957, when he became president of the most important sports organization in Brazil, the Brazilian Sports Confederation (CBD). Through this organization Havelange approached rulers and leaders of many countries. It was also to CBD that the military rulers of Brazil appealed before decreeing - indefinitely - the end of the rule of law in the country through the Institutional Act # 5, on 12th December 1968.

From the moment Brazil became a State of Exception, the sport was used as never before as a way to inspire nationalism and sympathy for the government in the people’s hearts and minds. The 1970 FIFA World Cup was at the core of this project, and Havelange was the man in command. With the large amount of money that the military injected in Havelange’s entity during the so-called “Years of Lead” (Anos de Chumbo), he managed to promote himself around the world to win the FIFA presidency in 1974.

Read the entire research paper by Aníbal Chaim:

Playing for power: João Havelange's path to FIFA 1958-1974

ICSSPE 70th bulletin


This article forms part of the 70th Bulletin published by the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE) what has Brazil and its upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games as the focal point. The Bulletin is edited by Associate Professor Katia Rubio from the University of São Paulo and international director Jens Sejer Andersen of Play the Game.

The bulletin articles are also reproduced fully or in parts at Find an overview article here

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