Football legend “King” Pele, who died at the age of 82, left an indelible mark in the history of sports. But there is also a dark side to his career: his refusal to take a stand for the downtrodden Brazilians (archive photo taken after victory at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico).
FOOTBALL – The “King” of football had a dark side. With three World Cups and a track record of failure, Pele, who died on Thursday 29 December at the age of 82, without equal on the green, really didn’t have the same aura off the pitch. Because unlike Socrates in Brazil and especially Diego Armando Maradona, his rival in the fight for the title of the best player in history, the Brazilian’s life will be remembered with uncertainties in political and social issues.
It begins with silence and indifference during the more than two decades of military dictatorship in Brazil between 1964 and 1985. During the two decades that the regime lasted, Pele never uttered the slightest word of condemnation, especially of General Emilio Garrastazo de Medici. torture of political opponents, frontal attacks on individual liberties or crimes committed by local authorities.
Even worse, in 1970, when he was already a two-time world champion and it was said of him “ More famous than the Pope “, he finds himself uncomplainingly at the center of the dictatorship’s propaganda, appearing on posters decorated with unequivocal slogans. The worldwhom ” Brazil, you love it or you leave it “. And when driving Choice Having reached his third Brazilian world title, he returns to celebrate the victory and lift the trophy in Brazil with Garrastazu Médici. Can be ” the most successful public relations operation in sports history “, he wrote in 2013 World Football.
No goals can be found in this photo. Pele con Emílio Garrastazu Médici, the dictator who ruled with mano de hierro Bra… https://t.co/PiKfz22wjA
— Victor Egio (@EgioVictor)
Translation of the tweet: No goal can make you forget this picture. Pele with dictator Emilio Garrastazu Médici, who ruled Brazil with an iron fist during the leading years of the military dictatorship in which at least 431 people were killed. »
Counterexamples are Socrates and Maradona
But during the dictatorship and Pele’s passivity, other Brazilians were able to turn football into a weapon of political struggle. With a brilliant example: “Corinthian democracy”. In the early 1980s, Sao Paulo’s Corinthians, led by the iconic midfielder Socrates, effectively implemented the principles of a democratic system in their club, making collective decisions and publicly demonstrating their opposition. An experience that resulted in sporting success and turned a group of ball players into a model of resistance.
The same goes for Maradona, who cemented his legend and place in the hearts of popular forums as a comrade in arms of the downtrodden. Whether it’s being the face of Naples, a city despised by wealthy Italy, humiliating England in the 1986 World Cup four years after the Falklands War, claiming his famous and mixed heritage, or getting a tattoo of Che Guevara’s face, “ El Pipe de Oro He was a prominent political footballer, an emblem of the Third World.
“Adios Companero”, on the front page of @humanite_fr this Thursday. #Maradona https://t.co/nEH4GlenEw
— Cyril Petit (@CyrilPetit)
Rather, Pele would epitomize the globalization and commodification of football – long before the terms were coined. The Brazilian genius, who became the first player to increase sponsorship deals with multinational companies, still appeared at nearly 80 years of age alongside Kylian Mbappe to promote the luxury watch brand. And long before that, in the mid-1970s, when the dictatorship finally allowed him to export himself, he accepted a transfer that would make him extremely rich in Cosmos in New York, when he could shine on the lawns of Europe and face the best players in the world.
” I was neither a superman nor a miracle worker »
A trajectory and refusal to take a stand found throughout the rest of Pele’s career, choosing never to offend any government or institution. In this regard, his controversial position on the issue of racism in Brazil is a clear example of this. Although activists want to make the footballer an emblem of the black population, he will constantly minimize the presence of racism in Brazil, regarded by some as the local version of “Uncle Tom”. . the dominance of the white elite to protect their privilege.
A position that will allow him to remain a central figure in Brazilian life as he leaves no one behind. From far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to ex-employee Lula to centrist Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who will make him sports minister, Pele has always been on good terms with those in power in Brazil. Even if that meant cheering the fight against Covid-19 by Jair Bolsonaro, the outbreak was provocative, especially given the president’s anti-vaccine stances.
This neglect was justified by Pele in a 2021 Netflix hagiographic documentary dedicated to him. I believe that I have done more for Brazil with my football and by being myself than many politicians are paying for. “, he explained, arguing that he could do more for Brazilian society. ” I was neither a superman nor a miracle worker. Just a normal person who was given the gift of playing football by God. “Added words to the film with an archive added by King:” I have no desire to engage in politics. Football takes up most of my time anyway, and I don’t understand politics anyway. »
See also HuffPost: