Opening Ceremony

Torch bearers fail to impress Brazilians

Former marathoner Vanderlei de Lima lighting the Olympic cauldron during Friday’s opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium. He competed at Athens 2004 where he was accosted by a priest 6km from the finish but still took third spot.
Former marathoner Vanderlei de Lima lighting the Olympic cauldron during Friday’s opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium. He competed at Athens 2004 where he was accosted by a priest 6km from the finish but still took third spot. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Top: Former marathoner Vanderlei de Lima lighting the Olympic cauldron during Friday's opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium. He competed at Athens 2004 where he was accosted by a priest 6km from the finish but still took third spot. Above: The Ol
Above: The Olympic flame is raised next to a sculpture during the opening ceremony.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

RIO DE JANEIRO • Few in Brazil were disappointed that Pele did not light the Olympic flame.

That reflects the latest saga in the disconnect between the football legend, who emerged from Brazil's working classes to become a superstar, and the masses.

The 75-year-old released a statement a few hours before Friday's opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium, revealing that he had been asked to undertake the honour but that his ailing health would prevent him from doing so.

"I am not physically able to attend the opening of the Olympics," Pele said. "Only God is more important than my health."

It did not impress many Brazilians, reported USA Today.

"It is better he is not here," said Selma Freitas, an office worker from Rio. "He doesn't represent the Brazilian people, not anymore."

Pele's fall from grace began in 2013, when he openly criticised anti-government protesters complaining about a lack of basic social services.

Thereafter, he has not been taken seriously when he speaks about politics or economic issues.

Most Brazilians now consider him little more than a corporate figurehead.

He has become the public face of so many products, including Viagra, and companies that his regular commercial appearances have become the butt of jokes in the country.

"To me and my friends he is of course a legend, but he is also the guy who is annoying on all those commercials," said Marco Brandao, 34, a fan who was at the Maracana for the opening ceremony.

But Vanderlei de Lima, Pele's replacement to light the flame, did not inspire the people either.

Neither too Gustavo Kuerten and Hortencia Marcari who carried the torch in the last lap to the stadium.

Marathoner de Lima, 47, who won bronze in 2004, is relatively unknown in Brazil, except for the fact that he was grabbed by an Irish priest some 6km from the finish line in Athens.

Tennis player Kuerten, 39, won the French Open three times, but was successful only on clay.

Marcari, 57, was a member of the Brazil basketball team who won silver at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. However, the sport is not popular in Brazil.

People took to Twitter to mock the replacements.

Darren Rovell wrote: "Olympic torch lighting replacement for Pele is Vanderlei de Lima. Which is the world scale equivalent of replacing MJ (Michael Jordan) with Pete Myers."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Torch bearers fail to impress Brazilians'. Print Edition | Subscribe