Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Tue 23 September 2008

Mascot Masquerade

Maybe we're getting old, but the launching of the new mascot for the 2010 World Cup has made us feel that people sometimes take things a bit too seriously.

At the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg yesterday, world football's governing body unveiled the latest in a long line of cuddly and lovable characters who, it's hoped, will convey the element of fun that the World Cup holds within.

For the next competition in South Africa, FIFA's World Cup mascot will be a leopard called Zakuni, and it's at this point that we feel obliged to go through our SPAOTP Mascot Feature Checklist.

So let's see… Inane grin? Check… Ill-fitting uniform in the colours of the home nation? Check… Bulging eyes suggesting an underlying serious prostate problem? Check…

Yes, it's all a bit predictable, frankly. The designers have fallen into the trap of using the tried and trusted three step procedure to create the end product, namely (1) Find out which country the competition's going to be held in, (2) Pick an animal / food item / inanimate object associated with that country, and (3) Give it a quirky and if possible stereotypical name that people will hopefully remember.

On that last point, one can at least point to a little bit of originality this time. The name 'Zakuni' comes from 'ZA' (the native abbreviation for 'South Africa') and 'Kuni' meaning '10' in numerous African languages. All well and good, but we guarantee you'll be calling it Zucchini before the week's out.

Once upon a time, it was almost mandatory for any mascot's name to have the phrase 'ito' at the end, as in Juanito (Mexico '70), Gauchito (Argentina '78) and Naranjito (Spain '82 - left). Nowadays, there's a lot more flexibility on both the naming and design of the character to be used. The trouble is, the more originality you employ, the less comprehensible it is to the consumers - sorry, fans - around the world.

Back in 1990, the Italians went back to basics and came up with a mascot which was based on a traditional children's toy made out of building bricks with a football for a head. It had no face, no inane grin and consequently no way of endearing itself with the general public. As for the three amorphous blobs called 'Ato', 'Kaz' and 'Nik' created for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, they arrived with all the appeal of a smoker's handkerchief after a heavy cold.

But whatever the mascot looks like, it's the accompanying corporate spiel that really irritates us. FIFA need only send round a picture of the character to all and sundry and leave it at that, but no. This is the 21st century, therefore it's essential (as far as they're concerned) to give us a vomit-inducing diatribe telling us what the mascot represents.

On this occasion, we're treated to a particularly fine piece of marketing claptrap which states that Zucchini - sorry, Zakuni - "represents the people, geography and spirit of South Africa, personifying in essence the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He symbolizes South Africa and the rest of the African continent through his self-confidence, pride, hospitality, social skills and warm-heartedness."

Lucas Radebe added his two-penneth worth by saying "[Zakuni] wants to create a good mood for the fans and raise the excitement for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first on African soil. He is a proud South African and wants to ensure that the world will come together in South Africa." All those years playing for Leeds United have clearly taken their toll, bless him.

So with all that in mind, how difficult can it be to create a mascot for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? The answer: easy - and to prove it, here's what we've come up with…

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