Pele invited to light Olympic cauldron, but he's not sure sponsors will let him

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When you think of Brazilian sport, you think of soccer. And when you think of Brazilian soccer, you think of Pele.

It’s thus no surprise that Olympic organizers have invited the three-time World Cup winner, and arguably the greatest soccer player ever, to light the Olympic cauldron at Rio’s Opening Ceremony on Friday.

There’s a catch, though: The 75-year-old soccer great — er, businessman? — isn’t sure he’s allowed to. Because of obligations to his sponsors. Of course.

According to Reuters, Pele told Brazilian TV Tuesday night that he has to check with the U.S. company that owns his brand name before he can accept the invitation from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and the head of the Brazilian committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman.

“I have a contract that I am bound to fulfill,” Pele told Globo TV. To take part in the Opening Ceremony, apparently he would have to cancel a trip organized by his sponsors.

Pele, like American basketball great Michael Jordan, has continued to financially capitalize on his sporting success long after his playing days came to an end. He reportedly earned $25 million from endorsements in 2014. He has signed endorsement deals with companies such as Subway, Hublot, Volkswagen and others. None of those companies are official Olympic sponsors.

The IOC is infamous for its cracking down on non-sponsors and protecting the exclusive branding rights of its partners. It seems fitting, then, that the greatest Brazilian athlete ever might not be able to headline one of the world’s greatest celebrations of sport.

The Opening Ceremony gets underway Friday night at 8 p.m. Rio de Janeiro time (7 p.m. ET). It will be shown on tape delay on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.