Brazilian soccer legend Pele will not light the Olympic cauldron at Friday's opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics due to poor health, a spokesman for the three-time World Cup winner said.

Pele, who in 1999 was elected by the International Olympic Committee as the Athlete of the Century and whose full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, is considered by many as the greatest soccer player of all time.

Pele, 75, underwent hip surgery at the end of last year and his rehabilitation has been difficult.

Pepito Fornos, a Pele spokesman, confirmed to Reuters by telephone that Pele would not light the cauldron, saying that "the muscles in his leg that is being rehabilitated are not sufficiently strong enough".

"He is walking with a cane. The problem is that if he sits in a chair you need a winch to get him out of it," Fornos said. "His doctor thought it best that he continues physiotherapy, that he rests and we hope that he will be able to appear at the (Olympic) closing."

Pele said earlier this week that he had been asked to light the cauldron, but also said he needed to consult some commercial sponsors on whether he contractually would be able to do that.

Organisers have kept light-tipped about the details of the ceremony and had not confirmed whether Pele would take part, repeatedly refusing to comment on who might light the cauldron - the symbol of the Games that remains lit until the closing ceremony.

Despite being named Athlete of the Century, Pele never actually competed in an Olympics.

Pele has often joked that Brazil has never won an Olympic gold medal in soccer because he never played for the team.