World Cup Mascots: From Willie to the Nutty Armadillo
SO, an armadillo it is.
Not the most obvious choice for Brazil’s World Cup mascot, but then the nut had already been by Crystal Palace’s legendary P. Nut, and the connotations of the word “Brazilian” are hardly suitable for a family-friendly cuddly toy.
Anyway, it’s all for a good cause – raising awareness of an endangered species – and it’s not as if other country’s efforts haven’t had their own idiosyncrasies.
England 1966: World Cup Willie
This cool little dude is the daddy of them all. Not just the first Word Cup mascot, but the first modern mascot of all in a marketing and branding kinda way. Later emulated by the European Championships and winter and summer Olympics.
Mexico 1970: Juanito
Mexico is the most “iconic” of World Cups, and the first televised in colour. Then there were the bright yellow shirts of Brazil’s legendary side, and the memorable graphic and font of the tournament logo. Hardly surprising, then, that the rather predictable mascot – a boy in a sombrero – remains largely forgotten. Note the cunning adidas branding.
West Germany 1974: Tip and Tap
“Tippy-tappy” football a full three deacdes before Barca. WM stands for Weltmeisterschaft, by the way.
Argentina 1978: Gauchito
The World Cup was a massive PR exercise for the Argentinian junta, but that isn’t actually a rubber cosh in gauchito’s hand – it’s a gaucho whip, for use on horses. Gauchito sounds like a cross between ‘gaucho” and “cheat” – something that crossed Brazilian minds when the host nation won 6-0 in suspiciously easy circumstances against Peru to eliminate Brazil on goal difference. Note how Puma got the boot action this time.
Spain 1982: Naranjito
A Spanish orange in football kit. His name means orange. There is nothing more to say. And if you have ever wondered what he would look like with human legs, then wonder no more…
Mexico 1986: Pique
He’s a jalapeno pepper and his name comes from picante, which refers to spicy peppers and sauces. And hey, surprise, surprise – he’s wearing a sombrero!
Italy 1990: Ciao
Hello, what’s this? “Hello” the stick man, that’s who. A typically striking effort from the home of stylish design.
USA 1994: Striker
A disappointingly generic cartoon dog, designed by the warner Bros animation team. So much less interesting than the USA’s real-life cartoon, Alexi Lalas…
France 1998: Footix
A cross, apparently, between “football” (French for “football”) and Asterix, the most popular Frenchman of all time. Alternatives were put forward, but this cockerel won with over 90 per cent support from the French people.
Japan and South Korea 2002: Ato, Kaz and Nik
These computer-generated forerunners of Wenlock and Mandeville are a coach (Ato) and players (Kaz and Nik) are players of a “Atmoball” – a sport that doesn’t actually exist outside the realm of computer games. Names were chosen by an online poll and customers of McDonald’s. What any of this had to do with anything remains a mystery.
Germany 2006: Goleo
That’s Goal-Leo, geddit? So far so good, but the talking ball that this German lion is about to kick into the proverbial Row Z is actually Pille, his sidekick. (See what we did there?) Pille is German slang for football, in case you are interested.
South Africa 2010: Zakumi
The leopard’s official motto is “Zakumi’s game is Fair Play”. ZA is South Africa’s official country code, while “kumi” means “ten” in various African languages – a reference to the year of the tournament.
Unlike precious mascots, whose backstories are rather sparse, Zukimi arrived fully formed, with a rounded personality and CV: Zakumi is a jolly, self-confident, adventurous, spontaneous, and actually quite shrewd little fellow. He loves to perform and always follows his instinct and intuition, yet sometimes has the tendency to exaggerate a bit. He is often found fooling about and teasing people but not in a mean way. He is warm-hearted and caring, and wants to make as many friends as possible. He loves to play football as it is a great way to connect with others and break down language barriers. He always carries his football around which he will use to invite people to play with him. Zakumi loves football. At one time he decided to dye his hair green as he felt it would be the perfect camouflage against the green of the football pitch; a bit like his rosette spots are when hunting in the wilderness!
He does have one striking weakness. With all his energy, he needs frequent rests. Occasionally, in-between performances on stage, he may suddenly fall asleep on the spot at the most random times! But rest assured, these are only short breaks that a leopard of his calibre needs to recharge his batteries.
After that, a shy retiring armadillo will make a nice change.