Santos, Brazil, Jan 2 (EFE).- The wake for Brazilian soccer icon Pele, who died late last week at age 82, began on Monday so that his Brazilian fans and others could pay tribute to the fabulous forward, considered by many around the world as the best soccer player in history.
The wake is being held on the grassy pitch of the Vila Belmiro Stadium in the city of Santos, where “O Rei” (The King) played for the greater part of his sports career.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and other personalities from the soccer world were on hand to pay homage to Edson Arantes do Nascimento, nicknamed Pele.
The open-casket funeral rites began five minutes later than scheduled with the opening of the stadium doors to fans who wanted to say their last farewells to the three-time world champion.
Before the doors opened, Pele’s son Edinho and former player Ze Roberto, along with personnel from Santos, carried the casket to a tent set up in the center of the pitch, a space that is reserved for Pele’s family members.
A second tent located there is set aside for world soccer authorities and various political representatives attending the wake.
Fans entered through a side door and approached the casket along a designated walkway passing a few meters (yards) from the main tent, while playing on the stadium loudspeaker was a samba number titled “Eu sou Pele” (I am Pele), recorded years ago by the soccer great himself.
At the time established for the start of the ceremony, hundreds of Brazilian fans waited in line at the Santos stadium door, some of them having spent the night at the spot to be sure to get in early.
In the Vila Belmiro stands, dozens of white shirts bearing Pele’s number 10 have been hung, along with enormous signs reading “Long live the King,” “Pele 82 years old” and “The only one to stop a war.”
The wake will last for 24 hours until 10 am on Tuesday, when a funeral procession will depart from the stadium and wend its way through the streets of Santos, a port city located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Sao Paulo, where Pele died at Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital.
The procession will pass through the city’s Canal 6 district, where Pele’s 100-year-old mother Celeste Arantes lives before heading for the Memorial Necropolis Ecumenica cemetery, where Pele will be laid to rest in a private ceremony for family members only.
Pele died last Thursday at the Sao Paulo hospital where he had been receiving treatment for the past month for multi-organ failure caused by colon cancer, which had been diagnosed in 2021.
His death has shaken the soccer world, especially in Brazil, where soccer is the main entertainment attraction and where the government declared three days of official mourning.