His eyes are like two shining pearls. The look is imposing, but at the same time it is a happy look: a familiar look. She walks with a firm step, she is wearing a purple soccer jersey that curiously does not have the number 10, but 8. On the back it says Lucha. She walks through the center of Bogotá, in the Bicentennial Park, with a bag slung over her shoulder. The people who look at her, if she looks at her, don’t imagine who she is, although her features, those eyes like pearls, convey something, a certain familiarity. Finally, a young woman approaches her, tells her that her father was her greatest idol, and she smiles, and yes, it’s the same smile as ‘King’ Pelé.
(Soccer: ranking of the 10 best players in the history of the king of sports)
Kely Christina Nascimento, Pelé’s eldest daughter, and who lives in New York, is visiting Colombia to promote the Somos Equity campaign, a movement that seeks to amplify and recognize the role of women in soccer. She, who is an activist defending women’s soccer, a speaker, singer and composer, is the image of a traveling exhibition called ‘On the pitches: A thousand women, a thousand stories’. Kely, her bag slung over her shoulder, takes in the exhibit, looking cheerful as she looks at the canvas-stamped photos of women in soccer.
That is what she likes to talk about the most, the campaign, the women, but she suspects that the questions that await her will inevitably be about Pelé. Maybe that’s why he seems somewhat forewarned, as those who are relatives of such great idols should be forewarned. And yet the first question takes her by surprise.
—How was Pelé dad?
—Pelé as dad? —She says, and her eyes widen, his expression is one of striking surprise.
—Yes, the father Pele…
Kely thinks about her answer for a couple of seconds, and it’s not because the words don’t come out or because her Spanish is faulty—she says she speaks Portuñol. It is because perhaps her phrase comes from the bottom of her heart, she is honest:
—Since Papa Pelé was the best soccer player in the world —he says and lets out a loud laugh— He was very cute, but he couldn’t be present.
Kely has a good countenance. Every word is accompanied by an infectious smile. She must get used to talking about Pelé, her father, whom she will accompany during the last days of her life before his death on December 29, 2022. It was she who was by her side in that fatal December. It was she who informed the world of every detail, how the disease progressed (colon cancer), the ups and downs and finally death…
Pelé’s daughter speaks
This must be a different year for the Pelé family…
Yes, it’s different, but the truth is that the last few months have been filled with many tributes, so many that there hasn’t been time to stop, it seems like it was last month. It will decrease over time. But now we are in an integration of many tributes…
Is it like Pele is still here?
No, it’s a time to think about it a lot, but no, because it’s not here.
You were very close to him in the final moments, informing the world of all the news about Pelé’s health until his death…
Yes, because we noticed a year ago that when we didn’t show pressure and a lot of speculation was created, that it’s dead and they don’t tell us… we thought it was better to share the information. For us it was gratifying because we received all those energies from the world, it was a pleasure to see how they loved him so much and were aware of what was happening.
How did you receive that energy?
It was very good, with a lot of energy and everyone’s concern.
In his memoirs, Pelé says that fatherhood was a revelation for him, and he says that when he was unhappy with football or a bad game, it was a satisfaction to come home and play with you, who was very little… ?
Oh Yes ? Hahaha. Really…? Yes, yes, children do that, ha ha. It’s good to know.
What was that relationship like?
I was very young, he retired when I was 10 years old. But I have a long memory of the Cosmos (United States club). Because in Brazil there was a military dictatorship and we couldn’t go to the fields. We couldn’t go out much, my dad didn’t have a culture of fame like he has now. It was an interesting stage, but I was very young.
What was he like in family?
We have all been very close, the brothers, my mother, we are a united family. Always good together.
How did Pelé behave at home?
Normal… affectionate, a lot; always affectionate and very funny.
What is the best memory you have with Pelé?
Cosmos. It’s what I remember the most, it was the first time we were able to be on the soccer field with them, in training, my brother playing cards on the field while my dad trained, it was different because we hadn’t left the country.
What was the best thing that Pelé gave you?
He gave me everything heh heh.
Pelé’s death comes right at the end of the year, did that make it even more difficult to assimilate for the time?
No, we do not differentiate. He was strong no matter what time of year it was.
What does the ‘King’ pele mean to the world?
It represents connection with people because everyone knows it. It is a reflection, for everyone it means something different, they have their memory associated with Pelé, their children or their first love, their first job… I think famous people are like that, for each one what we need.
Was Pelé always very aware of the Brazil National Team…, like in the World Cup?
Yeah. We watched one or two World Cup games…she was always happy and loved Brazil. I was always pending. She liked it a lot.
What does Pelé represent for Brazil?
It represents three world cups, ha ha ha, three Jules Rimet!
But times have changed…
Yes, now there are five heh heh.
Did you like Colombia?
I think so, he liked the Colombians, they are very similar to the Brazilians.
Finally, what do you want to achieve with this campaign We are equity?
The campaign wants to convey that we must achieve equality or at least work for it. The role in football is the role in society, another space that was decided not for women and now we have to fight to participate. The most practiced sport in the world is an excellent tool to show inequalities in society… It is the radical collaboration we need to move gender equality faster.
What is your message for Colombian women?
Tell your stories, don’t stop trying to do what you want. Collaborate with each other. Only united will we be able to increase this movement.
Exhibition in Bogota
The traveling exhibition ‘On the courts: a thousand women, a thousand stories’ will be available for free at Bogotá’s Bicentennial Park until this Saturday, July 8. It narrates with photography the role of women in soccer.
Editor of EL TIEMPO