Pelé on Rio Olympics, lighting the cauldron
NEW YORK -- Pelé often quips when the Olympics arise in conversation.
I never played in the Olympics, but maybe I can come back for the Rio Games.
The Brazilian soccer legend, now 75 years old, is expected to have a role in the Rio Olympics in August. Just not as an active competitor. What it will entail, Pelé says he doesn’t even know.
He is considered the favorite to be chosen to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5, at the storied Maracanã stadium.
And he helped Rio’s bid to host the Olympics, traveling to Copenhagen in 2009 for the host city vote, where the Brazilian effort beat groups including a Chicago delegation that boasted Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Pelé was in New York this week for the Tribeca Film Festival debut of his biopic, “Pelé: Birth of a Legend,” which opens in theaters May 6.
He sat down with OlympicTalk in a Park Avenue hotel on Thursday. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
OlympicTalk: What did you know about the Olympics growing up?
Pelé: We had two or three athletes who did the Olympics competition very good. I saw the athletes, I saw the jumpers, but I don’t remember their names. But we had two or three good athletes for the Olympics. But I never played in the Olympics, and Brazil never won the Olympics in football.
Editor’s Note: Adhemar da Silva won Olympic triple jump titles in 1952 and 1956 and is one of two Brazilians to win multiple individual gold medals. Pelé signed professionally at age 15 in 1956, and back then professionals didn’t play Olympic soccer.
OlympicTalk: You were reportedly crying in Copenhagen after Rio won the Olympic vote in 2009. Why were you in tears?
Pelé: One of the reasons was because I had never participated in the Olympics. Second, because in sport I am very emotional. When you have some meeting or tournament, I have to be very strong and prepare myself because I am very emotional. I cry easy.
OlympicTalk: When was the last time you cried about something sports related?
Pelé: The last time was a very short time [ago]. It was when Brazil lost the World Cup [in 2014].
OlympicTalk: What would it mean if you could light the cauldron?
Pelé: I am very, very happy if it happens. ... It’s a gift from God if I have the health to be there. I wish I’d bring luck for Brazil.
OlympicTalk: Have they asked you to light the cauldron?
Pelé: I don’t have any information yet.
OlympicTalk: How do the Olympics compare to winning the World Cup?
Pelé: Oh no, it’s different, because World Cup is just one kind of sport. Olympics you have a lot of involvement, a lot of sports. It’s different. I think the pressure for the football, the pressure is much more strong than the Olympics.
OlympicTalk: If Brazil wins an Olympic soccer title for the first time, would that make up for the World Cup?
Pelé: I think it would make up a lot, but first of all I think the most important thing, unfortunately, the political situation is not too good now [President Dilma Rousseff is on the brink of impeachment]. It’s a very short time before the Olympics. I think the most important is to make it as good administration, make it a good Olympics. This is the most important at the moment.