Brazilian soccer legend Pele was buried on Tuesday in his final resting place, while watching his country of more than 200 million people.
Newly installed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva paid his respects at Villa Belmiro, the stadium where Pelé played most of his career.
Pele is buried in Santos, the city where he grew up, became famous and helped turn it into the world capital of his sport.
Mass was celebrated at the Vila Belmiro stadium before the casket was delivered through the streets of Santos to a nearby cemetery.
Giovanna Sarmiento, 17, waited in the three-hour line to see Pele’s body as it lay there. She came with her father who was wearing a Brazilian jersey named Pele.
She said, “I’m not a Santos fan, neither is my dad. But this guy invented the Brazil national team. He made Santos stronger, he made it big, how can you not respect him? He’s one of the greatest people ever, we needed to honor him.”
Caio Zalk, 35, an engineer, wore a Brazil jersey as he waited in line. “Pele is the most important Brazilian of all time. He made the sport important to Brazil and made Brazil important to the world,” he said.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Pele was perhaps the most famous athlete in the world.
He met presidents and queens, and in Nigeria, a civil war was suspended to watch him play.
Many Brazilians credit him with putting the country on the world stage for the first time.
Rows of shirts with Pele’s No. 10 were laid behind one of the goals, waving in the city’s summer wind. A section of the stands was filled with bouquets of flowers placed by mourners and sent by clubs and star players including Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo – from all over the world as loudspeakers played a song named EU Sue Pele (“I am Pele”) which was recorded by Pele himself.
The crowd was mostly locals, although some came from far away. Many of the mourners were too young to have watched Pele play.
It was calm, people came out of the stadium and into the local bars, wearing the Santos Football Club and Brazil shirts.
Claudio Karanka, a 32-year-old sales representative, said: “I’ve never seen him play, but the love for Pele is a tradition passed down from father to son at Santos. I’ve learned his history, I’ve seen his goals, I see how important he is to Santos FC because he’s important. I know some “Santos fans have children who support other teams, but that’s just because they’ve never seen Pele. If they did, they would feel this gratitude that I feel now.”
Among those present at the stadium was Pele’s best friend, Manuel Maria, also a former Santos player.
“If I had all the riches in the world,” said Maria, “I would never be able to repay what this man did to me and my family.” “He was as great a man as he was as a player; the best of all time. His legacy will outlive all of us. And that can be seen in this long line with people of all ages here.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino told reporters that every country should name a stadium after Pele.
“I am here with a lot of emotion and sadness, but also with a smile because he has given us so many smiles. As FIFA, we will pay tribute to the King and ask the whole world to observe a minute of silence,” said Infantino.
Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes was another fan and friend of the two.
Mendes told reporters, “It’s a very sad moment, but now we see the true meaning of this legendary player for our country. My office has shirts signed by Pele, a picture of him as a goalkeeper, also signed by him. DVDs, pictures, a whole lot of him.”
Pele has undergone colon cancer treatment since 2021.
The medical center where he was admitted to the hospital said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of cancer.
Pele led Brazil to World Cup wins in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and remains one of the team’s all-time top scorers with 77 goals.
Neymar equaled Pele’s record during the World Cup in Qatar this year.