Rio's evangelical mayor, Marcelo Crivella, may skip the Rio carnival, the city's biggest annual event and one of the world's most famous street parties, reports said Friday.
Crivella -- who was elected in 2016 and is also a bishop in one of Brazil's wealthiest evangelical churches -- hopes to be abroad, the leading newspaper Globo reported, possibly in Israel or South Africa.
He would be the first mayor not to attend the spectacular contest between rival samba schools at the Sambodromo stadium in the first year of his mandate, Globo said.
The mayor's office said in a statement that it "will not comment on speculation about the destination of Mayor Marcelo Crivella during the carnival."
It also pointed out that the city legislature would have to approve any trip outside the city. "That hasn't happened yet," the statement said.
Carnival, already underway with scores of informal street dances, peaks with the Sambodromo finals starting February 26.
Globo quoted Crivella's culture secretary, Nilcemar Nogueira, as saying that he would be standing in for Crivella on February 24 at the ceremonial handing over of the city keys to the carnival king, known as Rei Momo. The role has traditionally always been played by the mayor himself.
"It will be an honor for everything that samba and the carnival represent in my life," Nogueira told the newspaper.
In another sign of Crivella's lack of enthusiasm for the carnival, the mayor's office has put up its VIP boxes at the Sambodromo for auction, Brazilian media reports said.
A former Rio mayor and state governor, Cesar Maia, sharply criticized Crivella, whose uncle Edir Macedo founded the powerful Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
"There are moments when the mayor does not represent his party but the city," he said. "I understand that because of his religion he doesn't like to dance samba or something like that. But his presence... is absolutely necessary."
Rio's previous mayor, Eduardo Paes, was a noted carnival lover who attended the Sambodromo parades and joined samba dancing parties himself during his 2009-2016 term.