Pele clarifies position after Brazil protesters brand him ‘traitor of the century’
DUBAI // Pele has moved to clarify his stance on the demonstrations sweeping across Brazil after protesters in Rio de Janeiro last week called him the “traitor of the century” for backing his country’s hosting of this summer’s multibillion dollar Fifa World Cup.
The 73 year-old, who led his country to three World Cup titles between 1958 and 1970, last year criticised rallies being held in Brazil during the Confederations Cup and urged his compatriots to “forget all the commotion and remember how the Brazilian squad is our country and our blood”.
Such advice was badly received and with other players, including footballer turned congressman Romario, backing the protesters’ demands for better public transport, health care and security, Pele has been seen to be increasingly aligned with Fifa and Brazil’s vast overspending. Last week, The Times of London reported 150 people in Rio staged a rally with specific ire aimed at their country’s most celebrated player.
At a conference in Dubai on Sunday, Pele moved to explain his position, telling The National he is in agreement with demonstrators’ calls for improved public services, but is against the booing of the national team.
“I now have a little problem there because I was against the protests aimed at the players and team,” Pele said. “The corruption was not with the players, but with the political people. Some journalists did not understand me when I asked the protesters: ‘Do not boo the players; do not boo the Brazilian team’.
“If the corruption does damage to the country, it is not our fault because football and the national team is the most important income to Brazil. I agree that the people need hospitals, I agree they need better lives, but I cannot agree with them booing the players. This is a political issue with the politicians who rob the people. That’s what I was trying to say.”
With protests becoming increasingly more frequent in the build-up to this summer’’s tournament, which kicks off in Sao Paulo on June 12, Pele said he expects a similar situation as was witnessed in Brazil last summer when the country witnessed mass demonstrations throughout the country, including several that turned violent.
“We had a problem there before and during the Confederations Cup with a lot of protests,” Pele said. “Fortunately, Brazil won [the tournament] and everything calmed down. We are going to have the same problem at the World Cup because if everything goes normal, things will be calm, but if Brazil has a difficult game and things do not go so well, we could see problems and they [the protesters] will use that.
“I am against such protests because the players do not have anything do with the corruption.”
Romario, the former Brazil striker who won the World Cup in 1994, has been vehemently critical of Fifa and the Brazilian football federation since taking office in 2010 and only last week called Fifa president Sepp Blatter “a corrupt thief” and Jerome Valcke, the secretary general of football’s governing body, “a blackmailer”.
Updated: March 17, 2014 04:00 AM