No doubt still the most powerful man in the world of soccer today is Joao Havelange,  President of FIFA the Federation Internationale de Football Association.  He has held a firm grip on the world organizing body of soccer (FIFA) for more than 24 years.   In his youth an accomplished athlete; swimming for Brasil's Olympic team in the 36 Olympics in Berlin, again on Brasil's Olympics Water Polo team at Helsinki in 1952.  He then served as head of the Brazilian delegation at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.

Joao Havelange is no stranger to international sports competition. Still in excellent health,  he participates in the Gusti Cup, a friendly match amongst celebrities held annually in memory of former UEFA President, Gustav Wiederkebr.

La Cancha had the pleasure of personally meeting President Havelange recently in Paris. It was there where we presented him with a award for his lifelong contribution to the world's greatest sport, an acrylic block containing blades of preserved grass from the surface of America's first World Cup.


In a rare interview below , President Havelange tells us who he thinks is the best player of all time and who he expects to win the World Cup in France.  We also asked President Havelange who he thinks should be his successor upon his retirement.   As our magazine primarily focuses on the grass surfaces of the world's most popular sport (soccer) we have have included his responses regarding the playing surfaces of World Cup.

Q: Who do you support for the position of the next president of FIFA?
A:  I don't have a preference. There are two candidates, Mr. Lennart Johannson and Mr.Joseph Blatter.  FIFA has two hundred affiliated countries and in the congressional meeting of June 8th they will make the decision.

Q: What is your opinion of Ronaldo and the selection in general.
A:  Well, I think we have an excellent selection however all of the teams are in good condition.
I think you will see the world applaud whoever wins this World Cup because of the level of play which will come from all of the participants

Q: Who do you think will win the World Cup this year.?
A:  I can't say. It's like the national lottery, anyone can win, but at the same time know one can say really knows who will be the champion.

Q: Who would you prefer to win? Would you like to see Brasil win for the fifth time?
A:  For me I am happy to see any country win the World Cup.

Q: Why has Brasil been consistently the best team in the world?
A:  It is because of the quality of the players, their discipline as well as the experience of the coaches.

Q:  In your opinion, who is the best futebol player of all time?
A:  Indisputably Pele.

Q:  As the term "La Cancha"  refers to the playing field, and the field being the focus of our magazine, I'd like to ask you a few question in that regard..  There has been much discussion about players and coaches, however little has been written or said about the surfaces upon which World Cup games have been played.  With regard to the past. have all World Cup games been played on natural grass?.
A: All matches in the World Cup finals have been played on natural grass.  Although the laws of the game (which apply to all football activity) do not stipulate that the playing surface  must be of grass, this has historically been the normal playing surface and all major events have always been contested on grass.  The World Cup regulations now state that the games must be played on grass.

Q: How much has the design of the playing surface contributed to the level of play over the years?
A: By "design" of playing surface we understand you mean the quality of the surface; if so, there is no doubt that football benefits from a first-class playing surface, as the ball runs and bounces more truly, the players have a better grip, and above all, they have more confidence in their play, being no longer hesitant in their actions because they know the ball will behave as it should.  FIFA encourages improvements in field quality; but this is relevant not only at the top end of the performance scale but more importantly at the lower end.

Q: Dr. Havelange, as you may be aware, in America, the ACT Team  (ARCHITECTURE - CONSTRUCTION & TURF) was responsible for ensuring uniformity in all of the playing fields of Americas first World Cup.  However, there were two special projects, one at Giants Stadium in New Jersey headed by Dr. James Watson, and the other, the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan head by Dr. John N. Rogers III.   Both sites had temporary turfgrass installed in order to comply with FIFA regulation.  Although all of the playing surfaces were uniform. most of the press as well as the players indicated that these two fields were the best they had ever played on. Did you visit those two venues, and if do how did you rate America's temporary grass surfaces?
A: FIFA greatly appreciated the work done at the 1994 world Cup by the ACT Team, a highly professional organization which produced excellent results.  The work done at the GIants Stadium and, especially in the Silverdome also earned FIFA's recognition because of the pioneering  world and technical problems involved.  Of course I visited all venues during the World Cup, as well as beforehand, and took careful note of the comments of all experts involved; the most important of these are of course the players themselves. Their enthusiastic attitude towards these playing surfaces vindicated FIFA's decision to use these two stadia despite the mentioned technical difficulty.

Q: Do you foresee the possibility of temporary turfgrass being used in future World Cup Games?
A: Temporary turf is unlikely to be used in the next two World Cups, and certainly not in France 1998, where all matches will be played in established football stadia.   The 1998 stadia are Paris/St Denis (Grande Stade), Paris (Parc des Princes), Lens (Felix Hollaert), Lyon (Gerland),
St. Etienne (Geoffrey Guichard), Marseille (Velodrome), Montpellier (Mosson). Toulouse (Le Stadium), Bordeaux (Lescure) and Nantes (Beaujoire).  All the French stadia have natural grass. Should any of these stadia need to replace the existing surfaces, this is the responsibility of the World Cup Organising Committee.

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