Brazil soccer legend Pele says problems with racism in the sport are often exaggerated, and adds that he is worried his country is falling behind in preparations for the World Cup in two years time and the 2016 Olympics
LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (AUGUST 10, 2012) (REUTERS) -Racism in soccer is declining, Brazil legend Pele said on Friday (August 10) before adding that the media often exaggerated such problems in the world's most popular sport.
At a news conference in London, Pele was asked whether he felt more needed to be done to tackle racism in the soccer.
"In my time, we didn't have this kind of preoccupation, we didn't have this because a lot of time when I play, I see (players saying) 'Pele, you're black, don't score a goal on me'," he said.
"Today if they say this in a match you say 'Oh they called me black'. We give too much emphasis on that, I think this is something we have to fight of course because people have to respect people but a lot of time the press make these things bigger than they are."
As he finished, Pele was interrupted by an official sitting nearby seemingly wary of the sensitive nature of the topic.
There was concern over racism in soccer stadiums in the European championships this summer hosted by Poland and Ukraine, but much of the tournament passed without controversy.
As an ambassador for the Rio 2016 games, Pele said the Olympics were worryingly behind schedule at the moment, but insisted construction of venues should be completed on time. However the former Brazil number 10 voiced his scepticism on whether transport infrastructure will be ready to carry millions of spectators across the cities and venues.
"At the moment, to be honest, we are not ready," he said.
"We have a little problem with the construction, we work hard (but) this is something that we worry (about) because the communications are not so good yet, the transport is not so good yet, sometimes people say 'this will be easy' but it's not so easy, we have only two years and some think we're gonna have problems."
In an interview with Reuters, Pele said that his country needed to invest more time and effort into sports to help diversify its sporting talent in time for the Olympics in 2016.
"No doubt we need new investment, new coach(ing), and prepare the mentality I think is important to have because Olympics is not so easy," he said.
"Sometimes you expect the player is the best and during two years, three years, when they get to the Olympics they have a problem. This happens and this is normal but I think we are gonna be, we are prepared for the next Olympics in Brazil."
Brazil have been the most successful country in soccer, winning the World Cup a record five times between 1958 and 2002. The one soccer achievement missing from their trophy cabinets is Olympic gold. Mexico are the final team to stand in their way of achieving a first gold when they meet in the final on Saturday (August 11) at Wembley.
"At that time, professional players could not play in the Olympic Games, then I was a little sad because I never play Olympics game because I couldn't play because I was a professional, (back) then I teased the Brazilian players and said 'listen, that's the reason Brazil never had a gold medal," he said.
"Coincidentally now I am here, come to see if Brazil can for the first time win the gold medal, I think that they have a chance when they play against Mexico, Mexico's a good team but Brazil I think has one of the best teams in the last 10 years. I think we have a chance, let's see if we have the luck to come back to Brazil with the gold medal."
Asked what it meant for Brazil to host both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, Pele said much of the country's focus will be on the soccer.
"Football is always for Brazil the main thing, a very important thing, but everybody knows that football is a box of surprises. Brazil in the 50s, I was you know 10 years old but I saw my father cry because we lost the World Cup in Brazil. This could happen, it was the best team who went to the final and they lost. Then we have to be prepared 'cause today I think the level of the teams are almost equal, we don't have easy games, that's the reason you need to be well prepared."
Brazil were beaten in the final game of the 1950 tournament by Uruguay, the only World Cup they have hosted so far.
Pele is arguably considered the greatest soccer player in history, having won a record three World Cup titles and scoring more than 1,000 goals during his successful professional career.