FIFA boss Gianni Infantino has once again raised eyebrows, this time at the funeral and wake of football legend Pele, who passed away aged 88 last week. A 24-hour wake was held in the Brazilian coastal city of Santos, where Pele score more than 1000 club goals over his storied career.
Thousands of fans paid their respects, filing through the Vila Belmiro Stadium where Pele's open casket had been placed for the duration of the wake. Edson Arantes do Nascimento - Pele's given name - was born in 1940 in the small country town of Tres Coracoes, but moved to Santos in 1956 and lived there for most of his life.
His body arrived amid fireworks in Santos - a city of about 430,000 people - in the early hours of Monday from Sao Paulo's Albert Einstein Hospital, about 80 kilometres away, where Pele died at the age of 82 after suffering from colon cancer. Pele's relatives and closest friends gathered by the coffin. Edinho and Pele's widow Marcia Aoki joined hands and said a prayer.
Infantino, who was ridiculed during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar after a bizarre response to concerns about the treatment of migrant workers, again managed to raise eyebrows after declaring every country in the world ought to name a stadium after Pele. He was also criticised after he was spotted taking a selfie just metres away from where Pele's open casket rested.
“We’re going to ask every country in the world to name one of their football stadiums with the name of Pele,” Infantino said. “We’re here with great sadness. Pele is eternal. He’s a global icon of football.”
Named by FIFA as the greatest footballer of the 20th century, Pele was honoured by the sport's governing body, which flew flags at half-mast outside their Zurich headquarters. He will later be interred in a private ceremony following the conclusion of the public viewing.
Santos' press office said some 5,000 journalists from all over the world had been accredited to cover the wake of the only man to win the World Cup three times as a player, who also scored more than 1,000 goals for Santos. Several authorities are expected to attend the memorial, including newly sworn-in Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Vice President Geraldo Alckmin - a longtime Santos supporter.
Sao Paulo state military police said in a statement they had prepared a special operation called the "King Pele Operation" to ensure public order. "I'll be here all day, 24 hours, from 10 am to 10 am." fan Roberto Santos said. "Pele deserves it".
Gianni Infantino mocked over baffling FIFA World Cup statement
The latest criticism of Infantino comes after a peculiar speech he gave during the World Cup in Qatar. Asked about the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums used for the event, Infantino's attempt to show solidarity with marginalised groups in society was widely considered to have fallen completely flat.
Labelling critics of Qatar 'hypocrites', Infantino pointed to the last 3000 years of European history as proof the broader Western world was out of place in criticising the Middle Eastern nation for their socially conservative policies. Homosexuality is forbidden in Qatar, which has sparked protests from a number of teams including the Socceroos, while the nation has also been heavily criticised for its extensive use and alleged mistreatment of thousands of migrant workers recruited to build the eight stadiums required for the tournament.
“Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker,” he said." I’m not Qatari, African, gay, disabled and I’m not really a migrant worker but I know what it means to be discriminated and bullied, as a foreign in a foreign country, as a child at school I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. I was bullied for that. There are 1 billion disabled people in the world … and nobody cares.”
The Telegraph chief football correspondent, Jason Burt, penned at the time that the FIFA president's speech read like it had been prepared by the host nation, and that it was 'delusional'.
“If that did not leave his and Fifa’s credibility shot for anyone with a conscience, then Infantino made sure it was with a speech that sounded like it was scripted by the Qatari authorities,” he wrote. “If that wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a level of staggering delusion and also an irritation that betrayed his inflated arrogance.”
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