LAUSANNE, Switzerland, (Reuters) – The International Olympic Committee has shelved an investigation into former FIFA head Joao Havelange after he resigned as an IOC member just days before an ethics hearing into his conduct, IOC President Jacques Rogge told Reuters on yesterday.
The 95-year-old Havelange, head of soccer’s world governing body from 1974-98, was under an IOC investigation for his alleged links to FIFA’s former marketing agency International Sport and Leisure (ISL) amid allegations of corruption.
Brazilian Havelange, an IOC member for 48 years, sent a letter of resignation to Rogge as the IOC’s executive board was preparing to meet to discuss the ethics commission’s findings into three members, including Havelange, over their role in the corruption affair that rocked the world of sport.
“Havelange sent me a letter saying that he had lately had health issues and that stopped him from travelling and he considered that due to his age and health it stopped him from travelling regularly,” Rogge told Reuters in an exclusive interview.
Asked whether his resignation two days before the IOC discussed the ethics commission report was an indirect admission of guilt by Havelange, Rogge said that was just speculation.
“I am not going to comment on what is purely speculation. Joao Havelange already had missed other meetings, in the (IOC) session (in July) he was not there either, he missed major meetings of FIFA.
“For me the resignation is one based on health and age,” he said, adding that any probe into Havelange was now closed as far as the IOC was concerned.
“Mr Havelange will not be an IOC member any more. Investigations only apply to IOC members. So as Mr Havelange will stop to be an IOC member there will not be an investigation into him as he is a private citizen.”
ISL went bankrupt in 2001 with debts of around $300 million. A BBC Panorama television programme alleged in 2010 that Havelange had accepted money from ISL for granting lucrative World Cup contracts.
Two other IOC members, world athletics chief Lamine Diack and Issa Hayatou, are still under investigation linked to the ISL affair with a decision expected by the IOC today.
Rogge, who took over the IOC in 2001 following the Salt Lake City Olympics bribery scandal that saw four members expelled and several more sanctioned, said major sports organisations needed to be financially transparent and not just run their sport.
“There is definitely a need, a necessity for transparency and accountability,” he added. “Sports organisations run sport but also manage major budgets and the way these budgets are run needs transparency and that applies to everyone.
“(World soccer’s governing body) FIFA is starting with a major overhaul, which is a good thing. FIFA has also pledged to adapt its governance and that is a very good sign,” said the Belgian, who will step down in 2013.
“My responsibility is to manage the IOC and yes we are going to implement our rules and regulations. Don’t ask me to point fingers to other organisations,” he said.
Rogge also urged India’s Olympic association (IOA) to talk with its athletes over ongoing protests related to the 2012 London Games’ sponsorship deal with Dow Chemical.
The Indian government has asked its Olympic association to raise the issue of the sponsorship deal in the latest sign of pressure on organisers to reconsider the involvement of a company linked to the Bhopal gas disaster.
Many victims and activists hold Dow responsible for failing to give enough compensation to victims and some have called for a boycott of the London Games.
The pesticide plant was owned by Union Carbide, which settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million for Bhopal victims.
Dow bought Union Carbide a decade after the company had settled with the Indian government and now finds itself in the firing line for its sponsorship of a temporary decorative wrap over London’s Olympic Stadium.
“Definitely we respect a lot the emotion in India because this is a horrific catastrophe,” Rogge said.
“While we totally understand the emotions and the grief one has to say that Dow Chemical was not involved in the Bhopal issue.”
Activists say 25,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the accident and in ensuing years, and about 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas continue to suffer today from ailments that range from cancer, blindness to birth defects.
“We have advised the IOA to enter into a dialogue with their athletes and this is what they will do. I would hope the interest of sport and interest of the athletes will prevail,” he said.
“Every measure calling for a boycott is a measure that is hurting Indian sport and I am glad to say that there is no intention at the level of the IOA to consider such actions.”