Legendary Brazilian soccer player Pele
Retired footballer Pele has had to pull out of the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro owing to poor health in what will be a blow to the Games' organisersReuters

In a huge blow to the organisers and the Brazilian people who worship him, football legend Pelé has pulled out of the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro due to ill health.

The Brazilian sports newspaper O Globo reported the news describing Pele as the "king of football" and said there had been much speculation leading up to the ceremony starting at 8pm local time (midnight BST) on Friday evening (5 August) over whether he would be able to light the flame at the Maracana Stadium.

But in a statement, the player said: "Dear friends, only God is more important than my health! In my life I have had fractures, surgeries, pain, stints in hospital, victories and defeats, and I respect those who admire me."

He said he did not want to disappoint his family, or the Brazilian people but expressed his regrets: "At this point, I'm not physically able to attend the opening of the Olimpiad.

"As a Brazilian, I ask God to bless all who participate in this event and that it is a great success and will pass off peacefully".

Aged 75, the man who was once voted player of the 20th century, is revered in his homeland and his absence will be a huge disappointment for Brazilians, looking for a great start to the Games.

The lead-up to the event has been already marred by controversy, after Moscow denied that none of its diplomats had killed a robber near Rio's Olympic Park on Thursday (4 August).

Local media reports had earlier claimed that a Russian honorary consul tackled a mugger using jiu-jitsu skills and shot him dead using the attacker's gun.