Legend Pele branded ‘traitor of the century’ in Brazil

The Rio Report

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It may sound absurd and shocking, but legendary footballer Pele has been branded the 'traitor of the century' in his homeland of Brazil amid widespread protests.

Crowds of furious Brazilians have been gathering to denounce the three-times World Cup winner just months before the country hosts the tournament.

As arguably the greatest footballer the world has ever known and a Brazilian icon, it's a real shock to many to discover the extent of the vitriol that is now greeting the 73-year-old.

It all stems from the general anger at the vast sums of money spent on preparing the country for a World Cup that many in the country do not believe they can afford.

According to a report in The Times, it is the money spent on sports venues in a country that lacks adequate healthcare, policing and public transport that has angered so many with Pele having attached himself to much of the frustration.

The reason behind his link to the unrest?

Pele caused uproar as he called for calm during last June's huge demonstrations. This was in spite of the fact that many prominent Brazil stars were publicly supporting the protesters' demands.

In Rio earlier this week, 150 demonstrators staged another large-scale protest over the spiralling World Cup costs - which are believed to be around £8 billion.

Oh, and with a further £11 billion to follow for staging the Olympics in Rio in 2016, if reports are to be believed.

"There will be no Cup," angry demonstrators chanted, holding up a banner that read "Pele, traitor of the century", according to a report in The Times.

Pele - along with 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldo - is regarded as always being 'on message' for FIFA, not helped by the large sums of money he is believed to pick up in return for his various roles for the organisation.

Demonstrators now have the pair down as "enemies of the people".

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"They [Pele and Ronaldo] were great players but now they are out of touch - it’s a shame," one 32-year-old woman told the paper at the rally.

Another World Cup winner for Brazil, Romario, who now holds a seat in Congress, has not held back in slamming FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke and president Sepp Blatter to further stir up feeling against the governing body.

Romario told a congressional hearing of Brazil’s Tourism and Sports Commission: "We can’t expect anything from FIFA, where we have a blackmailer called Valcke and a corrupt thief and son of a bitch called Blatter.

He continued on his personal website:

He went on to say on his official website: "Brazilian authorities shouldn’t trust [Valcke] when signing any deal related to the World Cup ... I wouldn’t trust him if I had to give him 10 reals to buy me bread and milk.

"We have spent an absurd amount for the World Cup and going forward it will get even worse. Brazil has a lot of thieves, that’s the truth.

"Now we have to cheer for Brazil to win on the field because it would be perfect for football but off the pitch we’ve already lost and there is no way to reverse it."

Pele, in stark contrast, has again called for protesters to not tarnish the image of the World Cup in Brazil, something for which he is unlikely to be praised for.

"As a Brazilian I feel sorry because you have two or three big opportunities to showcase the country — the Confederations Cup, the World Cup and the Olympic Games," he said.

"I think this will be a great opportunity to show the country, to make money, to get tourism. And it’s important that the demonstrations do not damage everything, so we are going to work hard."

As an honorary ambassador for the tournament, Pele may continue to see his legendary and previously cherished status as a footballing god in the country besmirched due to his prominent status.

FIFA have Pele right where they want him: as a recognisable face of the tournament with all the integrity of a true great in the game.

But sadly his reputation in his homeland is being damaged by the day.

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