Pele won’t light Olympic cauldron, cites health

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This file photo taken on July 22 shows a handout picture released by the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee of former soccer player Pele holding the Olympic flame at the Pele Museum in Santos, Sao Paulo State. Pele wanted to light the Rio Olympic flame at the opening ceremony Friday, but poor health will prevent him from accepting the honor. | Andre Luiz Mello/Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO — Pele will not attend Friday’s opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics because of poor health, denying Brazilians a chance to celebrate their greatest sports figure.

The 75-year-old soccer great said this week he had been invited to light the cauldron, though that was not confirmed by Rio organizers.

“I’m not physically able to attend the opening of the Olympics,” Pele said in a statement on Friday.

Pele had hip surgery recently and often walks with a cane. His absence — in any role — will be a huge disappointment to fans and organizers. He is easily Brazil’s most recognizable athlete — or former athlete — though he stopped playing almost 40 years ago.

“Only God is more important than my health,” he wrote. “In my life I’ve had fractures, surgeries, pain, hospital stays, victories and defeats. And I’ve always respected those who admire me.”

He said pulling out was “my own decision.”

Pele’s role in the opening ceremony has never been clear. He had said earlier that a commitment to a sponsor would force him to travel the day of the ceremony.

“If I manage to change (the travel plans), I would like to have the honor to light it,” he said.

In statement, Pele apologized for disappointing Brazilians and said “as a Brazilian, I ask God to bless all who participate in this event.”

He signed the statement Edson Arantes do Nascimento — Pele.

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