RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Ricardo Teixeira, the controversial head of the Brazilian Football Confederation and the man charged with organising the 2014 World Cup, quit on Monday following a string of corruption scandals.
Teixeira, the most powerful man in Brazilian soccer for more than two decades, suffered from health problems and had been under intense pressure to stand down. Relations between Brazil and world soccer body FIFA have soured in recent weeks as the two bicker over the slow pace of preparations for the World Cup.
The 64-year-old soccer boss tendered his resignation in a letter that was read out to reporters at the Rio de Janeiro headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation, or CBF.
“I leave the presidency of the CBF definitively with the feeling of having done my duty,” Teixeira said in the letter.
He said he was standing down for health reasons, just days after he requested a temporary medical leave of absence to treat diverticulitis, a painful bowel condition.
Teixeira will be succeeded in both posts by Jose Maria Marin, a 79-year-old former politician who is little known outside the closed world of the CBF. Marin could run the CBF until early 2015, when Teixeira’s term was set to end.
Marin made headlines in January while presenting the winners of a junior football tournament with their medals. Cameras caught him slipping one of the medals into his pocket, prompting accusations of theft.
Marin told reporters on Monday that the medal was a gift from tournament organisers and called the accusations a “joke.”
The new head of the CBF paid tribute to his former boss, saying: “He was the main person responsible for bringing the World Cup to Brazil. If he doesn’t get our gratitude then he at least deserves our respect.”
Teixeira has long been a polarising figure in Brazil, revered by some for helping lead the country to two World Cup titles and despised by others for running the sport like a personal fiefdom.
His departure is likely to be welcomed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has had chilly relations with Teixeira since she took office in January 2011.
Rousseff was upset that Teixeira did not invite Brazilian soccer great Pele to help organise the World Cup. In a public rebuff, Rousseff named Pele, who has been critical of Teixeira, as Brazil’s ambassador for the Cup.
Romario, one of the biggest names in Brazilian soccer, greeted Teixeira’s resignation with satisfaction.
“Today we can celebrate,” said Romario, the former striker and World Cup winner who is now a federal congressman. “We have exterminated a cancer from Brazilian football.”
When Teixeira took the helm of the CBF in 1989, Brazil had gone 19 years without a World Cup title and the CBF’s finances were in tatters. Today, the CBF is a vastly profitable enterprise and Brazil holds a record five World Cup titles, having won under Teixeira in 1994 and 2002.
However, despite the successes on and off the field, Teixeira’s tenure has been frequently overshadowed by allegations of corruption and shady business dealings.
In 2001, a Congressional investigation accused him of 13 crimes ranging from tax evasion to money laundering to misleading lawmakers, although no charges were ever brought.
Last year, the former head of the English Football Association David Triesman said Teixeira offered to back England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup in return for favours.
In February, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said a company linked to Teixeira overcharged the organisers of a November 2008 friendly match between Brazil and Portugal.
Teixeira has denied wrongdoing in all cases.
His resignation means that Marin and two former footballers, Ronaldo and Bebeto, are now charged with organising one of sport’s biggest events.
Ronaldo and Bebeto, both World Cup winners, were appointed to the committee in recent months despite having little experience in the field.
However, both have good relations with FIFA, which could prove useful as Brazil seeks to patch up strained relations with the world soccer body. Brazil is refusing to deal with FIFA’s point man for the tournament, Jerome Valcke, following the Frenchman’s pointed criticism of planning and preparations.
Sport Minister Aldo Rebelo said the government would no longer deal with Valcke, who caused an uproar in the South American country by saying Brazilian organisers needed “a kick up the backside.”
The spat forced Valcke to cancel a scheduled visit to Brazil and prompted FIFA President Sepp Blatter to request a meeting this week with Rousseff. The two are expected to discuss the slow pace of work and to decide whether Valcke will continue as FIFA’s interlocutor.
Rebelo said in a statement that the government was looking forward to working with Marin to ensure the success of the World Cup.
The tournament has been beset by delays and questions since Brazil won the right to host it in October 2007. Although most of the 12 stadiums are on schedule, several are over budget and being built with taxpayer money, despite a pledge from former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that the event would be bankrolled by the private sector.
More worrying is the state of transportation infrastructure, especially airports.
Brazil’s antiquated airports are not capable of handling the expected influx of 600,000 fans and authorities have been slow to build new airports and expand the existing ones.
Additional reporting and writing by Andrew Downie in São Paulo; Editing by Todd Benson and Ed Osmond