BRAZIL mourned the death of one of its brightest stars, soccer great Pele, with fans and friends paying their respects to the sports icon who died at the age of 82 after battling colon cancer for just over a year.
Outside Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein hospital, where Pele had been undergoing treatment, fans gathered to mourn the loss of one of the greatest-ever exponents of the beautiful game, displaying Pele memorabilia on a clothesline by the entrance.
“I’ll never forget him, the Brazilian king of soccer,” said 67-year-old Antonio da Paz. “He provided us with joy even in our saddest times.”
Pele’s death has unified Brazil, a country starkly divided by a bruising presidential election.
Outgoing far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who leaves office on Sunday, declared three days of mourning.
“I had the pleasure of meeting him, talking to him for a few minutes in 1991 – a simple man who raised Brazil’s name in the four corners of the world,” Bolsonaro said in a social media broadcast on Friday. “The whole world is crying today”.
Monuments have been lit up to honour the only man to win the World Cup three times as a player, including Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue and Sao Paulo’s NeoQuimica Arena, where the opening match of the 2014 World Cup was played.
“I lost my brother,” Pele’s longtime personal assistant Jose Pepito Fornos told Reuters. “But we’ll have all eternity to be together in the Father’s house.”
Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele’s given name – died on Thursday at 3:27 p.m. local time (18:27 GMT) “due to multiple organ failures resulting from the progression of colon cancer associated with his previous medical condition,” the hospital said in a statement.
Pele’s wake will take place on Monday, only after the inauguration of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in the centre of the field at the stadium of Santos, his hometown club, which experienced a cloudy and rainy Friday morning.
Brazil’s incoming president, who takes office on Sunday, is expected to attend the ceremony on Tuesday morning, but no final decision has been taken yet, two sources close to Lula said.
Most of the people around the stadium were reporters, while the club’s staff prepared the venue for Pele’s memorial. A message on the stadium’s big screen read “Thank you, Pele”.
On Tuesday, a procession carrying his coffin will pass through the streets of the coastal city of Santos, ending at the Ecumenical Memorial Necropolis cemetery, where Pele will be buried in a private ceremony.