Pelé on Rio Olympics, lighting the cauldron

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NEW YORK — Pelé often quips when the Olympics arise in conversation.

I never played in the Olympics, but maybe I can come back for the Rio Games.

The Brazilian soccer legend, now 75 years old, is expected to have a role in the Rio Olympics in August. Just not as an active competitor. What it will entail, Pelé says he doesn’t even know.

He is considered the favorite to be chosen to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5, at the storied Maracanã stadium.

Pelé already carried the Olympic flame in 2004, ate Subway sandwiches with Michael Phelps in 2013 and marveled at watches with Usain Bolt in Manhattan this week.

And he helped Rio’s bid to host the Olympics, traveling to Copenhagen in 2009 for the host city vote, where the Brazilian effort beat groups including a Chicago delegation that boasted Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

Pelé was in New York this week for the Tribeca Film Festival debut of his biopic, “Pelé: Birth of a Legend,” which opens in theaters May 6.

He sat down with OlympicTalk in a Park Avenue hotel on Thursday. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

OlympicTalk: What did you know about the Olympics growing up?

Pelé: We had two or three athletes who did the Olympics competition very good. I saw the athletes, I saw the jumpers, but I don’t remember their names. But we had two or three good athletes for the Olympics. But I never played in the Olympics, and Brazil never won the Olympics in football.

Editor’s Note: Adhemar da Silva won Olympic triple jump titles in 1952 and 1956 and is one of two Brazilians to win multiple individual gold medals. Pelé signed professionally at age 15 in 1956, and back then professionals didn’t play Olympic soccer.

OlympicTalk: You were reportedly crying in Copenhagen after Rio won the Olympic vote in 2009. Why were you in tears?

Pelé: One of the reasons was because I had never participated in the Olympics. Second, because in sport I am very emotional. When you have some meeting or tournament, I have to be very strong and prepare myself because I am very emotional. I cry easy.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you cried about something sports related?

Pelé: The last time was a very short time [ago]. It was when Brazil lost the World Cup [in 2014].

OlympicTalk: What would it mean if you could light the cauldron?

Pelé: I am very, very happy if it happens. … It’s a gift from God if I have the health to be there. I wish I’d bring luck for Brazil.

OlympicTalk: Have they asked you to light the cauldron?

Pelé: I don’t have any information yet.

OlympicTalk: How do the Olympics compare to winning the World Cup?

Pelé: Oh no, it’s different, because World Cup is just one kind of sport. Olympics you have a lot of involvement, a lot of sports. It’s different. I think the pressure for the football, the pressure is much more strong than the Olympics.

OlympicTalk: If Brazil wins an Olympic soccer title for the first time, would that make up for the World Cup?

Pelé: I think it would make up a lot, but first of all I think the most important thing, unfortunately, the political situation is not too good now [President Dilma Rousseff is on the brink of impeachment]. It’s a very short time before the Olympics. I think the most important is to make it as good administration, make it a good Olympics. This is the most important at the moment.

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USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Sweden weighs 2030 Winter Olympic bid after IOC meeting

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Sweden’s Olympic leaders are weighing up whether to bid for the Winter Games in 2030.

The Nordic country’s potential entry into the race to stage the 2030 Games comes at a time when the International Olympic Committee has delayed the process and is searching around for more contenders to host the event.

Sapporo, Japan, was considered the favorite before an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo held in 2021. Salt Lake City is the only other known bidder that might consider taking 2030, though officials have said they favor a bid for 2034.

A joint Stockholm-Are bid from Sweden lost out to another shared bid, from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, to stage the Winter Games in 2026 amid a lack of clear public support in Sweden and some government upheaval at local and national level in the run-up to the vote.

There was reportedly discontent in Stockholm over how the Swedish bid was treated in the contest for the 2026 Games.

The Swedish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and the Swedish Sports Confederation will start a feasibility study for 2030, they said Wednesday. A report from the study will be presented on April 20.

“These are new times now and the feasibility study will show how the Olympics and Paralympics can be shaped based on Sweden’s conditions,” said Anders Larsson, acting chairman of the Swedish Olympic Committee. “We already have virtually all the arenas required to arrange the largest Winter Games.”

The committee’s secretary general, Åsa Edlund Jönsson, said the 2030 Games “could be a campfire to rally Sweden around.”

“The idea is to review the concept that existed for the candidacy in 2026, which would mean competitions in several places in Sweden,” Jönsson said, specifically referencing Stockholm and the regions of Dalarna and Jämtland. “Here we feel confident that there is great experience in arranging world-class winter championships in the Swedish sports movement.”

The Stockholm-Are bid for 2026 even included plans to stage ice-sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia to avoid building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.

The idea of Sweden potentially joining the 2030 race came up at a meeting in Lausanne in January.

“We have had a meeting with the IOC that was about, without obligation from any quarter, looking at the Games in 2030,” Larsson said. “During that meeting, it was clear that the IOC liked our concept for 2026. What the feasibility study will provide answers to is whether we are ready to move forward in the process.”

Sweden hosted the Summer Olympics in 1912 but never a Winter Games, despite the country being an established giant in winter sports.

It has made eight failed bids to stage the Winter Games.

Gunilla Lindberg, who is on the Swedish Olympic Committee, is also an IOC member and on its panel tasked with finding potential future hosts for the Winter Games.

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