Fifa president hits back after outrage over open casket selfie - as he calls on every country to name stadium after Pelé

3 January 2023, 12:32 | Updated: 3 January 2023, 16:01

Gianni Infantino has been pictured taking and posing for photos
Gianni Infantino has been pictured taking and posing for photos. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Fifa President Gianni Infantino has defended his actions after he was criticised for appearing to take a selfie near Pelé's open casket.

Infantino appeared today at Pelé's wake in the Brazilian city of Santos - at which he also suggested Fifa would ask every country to name a football stadium after Brazilian legend Pelé, who died last week after a battle with cancer.

Following the backlash, Infantino claimed he was helping Pelé's former teammates, who "did not know" how to take a selfie properly.

The Fifa chief wrote: "Just landed from my trip to Brazil where I had the privilege to participate in the beautiful homage to Pele that took place at Vila Belmiro, in Santos.

"I am dismayed after having been informed that I am apparently being criticised by some people for having taken a selfie and pictures at the ceremony yesterday.

"I would like to clarify that I was both honoured and humbled that team-mates and family members of the great Pelé asked me if I could take a few photos with them. And obviously, I immediately agreed.

"In the case of the selfie, Pele's teammates asked to do a selfie of all of us together but they didn't know how to do it. So, to be helpful, I took the phone of one of them and took the photo of all of us for him.

"If being helpful to a teammate of Pele creates criticism I'm happy to take it and will continue to be helpful wherever I can to those having contributed to write legendary pages of football.

"I have so much respect and admiration for Pele and for that ceremony yesterday that I would never do anything that would be disrespectful in any way whatsoever.

"I hope that those who published or said things without knowing and without seeking information could have the decency and courage to admit they were wrong and correct what they said."

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Speaking about the plan to ask nations to rename a stadium in honour of Pelé, Infantino told journalists: "We’re going to ask every country to name one of their football stadiums with the name of Pelé."

He continued: "It's important that children in 20 years, in 50 years, in 100 years from now - they remember who Pelé was. He was the first in many things and we need to remember a stadium where goals are being scored, where emotions are being felt because that's exactly the skill that Pelé had."

Thousands of mourners queued last night to pay their respects to the footballing legend, who has been lying in state at the stadium of his former club Santos.

Pelé's coffin has been in the centre of the pitch at the Urbano Caldeira stadium. A procession through the streets of Santos began at 12pm today, with private family burial expected to take place later this afternoon.

Fifa President Gianni Infantino is in Brazil for Pele's funeral
Fifa President Gianni Infantino is in Brazil for Pele's funeral. Picture: Getty

Pelé, who won the World Cup with Brazil three times, died on December 29 aged 82 after battling colon cancer since 2021.

Speaking about the Fifa President's actions, LBC's Nick Ferrari described Infantino as 'an idiot with form'. Nick said: "Not a bad idea - suggesting that every footballing nation should name a stadium after him...I don't know if that came after or before he posed for a selfie with Pele's coffin behind him. This idiot Infantino has got form."

Nick Ferrari slams 'idiot' FIFA President Gianni Infantino

Infantino, who was re-elected as Fifa President in 2019, sparked controversy during the World Cup in Qatar after he bizarrely told members of the press: "Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker".