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The Olympics and Pele

Who will light the flame at the Olympics in Brazil tomorrow? The big money is on the ‘King of Football’, possibly Brazil’s greatest national treasure, Pelé. The International Olympics Committee has already, and quite rightly, honoured Pelé  twice this year. In June Thomas Bach, IOC president, awarded Pelé the Medal of the Olympic Order, the Games’  highest honour. On the 22nd July, the Olympic torch was passed to Pelé in the town of Santos at the Pelé museum.  Santos was, of course, where the great footballer’s career began.

In 1999 the IOC named Pelé its athlete of the century. He has been officially declared ‘Best Football Player of the 20th Century’ several times. Sadly for him, however, he was never able to play football in the Olympics themselves. His international, professional career began in spectacular fashion at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. As a 17 year old boy he scored two of the winning goals against home team, Sweden, in the World Cup Finals. At that time only amateur sportsmen were allowed to take part in the Olympics. Professional sportsmen were only admitted to the Games in 1986.  So Pelé was prevented from ever being an ‘Olympian’ footballer- he jokes that that’s why Brazil has never won there!

the olympics, pele, atlanta, 1996, sportspages
Pele at the Olympics, Atlanta 1996

When Thomas Bach presented Pelé with his Medal of the Olympic Order he said of the Brazilian, “In everything he does, both on and off the field, he exemplifies the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.” Although he may not have played in the Olympics, Pelé has been involved in the Olympic movement massively over the years. We know for a fact that he was an ‘Honored guest’ at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, because we have recently acquired his accreditation pass for those games, a cracking piece of sports memorabilia and sport history. There he watched his great friend, Muhammad Ali, light the torch with dignity and great ceremony. It will be fitting and equally symbolic to watch the great Brazilian footballer, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, doing the same at the Opening Ceremony in Brazil 2016.