1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

A Mascot for All Seasons?

Nick AmiesNovember 16, 2004

Goleo the Lion was revealed as the official mascot for the 2006 World Cup this weekend. While fame and fortune beckons for the face of the soccer spectacular, Goleo will find out it's not all furry handshakes and waving.

Goleo enjoys his time in the sun but how will history remember him?Image: AP

With great power comes great responsibility, something Goleo -- the newly revealed official mascot of the 2006 World Cup -- will soon learn.

The tall and imposing, although very approachable looking, lion becomes the latest in a long line of fake animals to become the figurehead of a major sporting event. Goleo will spend the next 18 months preparing for the global soccer showcase in Germany, where he will stir the crowded stadiums and inspire millions of spectators around the world.

During that time, Goleo's face will become synonymous with the World Cup in Germany and the harmonious message of fair play that will no doubt be promoted throughout the entirety of the month-long tournament. Global superstardom and worldwide recognition awaits him. He looks happy enough, but is he ready?

Such a high profile position comes with its own set of intense pressures. Goleo will not even be able to enjoy a quiet gazelle without a pack of paparazzi snappers being on hand to record his every bite and maul. So what can the mascot of the 2006 World Cup expect?

If everything goes right, Goleo could be the next Misha the Bear. The mascot of the Olympic Games of 1980 went on to become one of the best loved and most marketable figureheads in sporting history, so much so that many people forget the US boycott of the Moscow games -- in protest of the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- and remember them for the cute little teddy bear who even cried at the closing ceremony.

Memorable Misha endures

Misha's tale should give the German lion some hope. Regardless of how well his countrymen perform at the World Cup, Goleo could still come out of the tournament smelling of roses. A successful stint as the face of the 2006 tournament could bode well for a future career away from the sporting spotlight.

Goleo may want to look to the example set by English soccer team Hartlepool United's H'Angus the Monkey. The all-singing, all-dancing mascot of the Yorkshire club enjoyed a long career aping around for the Hartlepool faithful and made such an impression on the town that in May 2002, he was elected town mayor.

But while the world may be an oyster -- or in Goleo's case, a wildebeest -- for the successful mascot, there are pitfalls. As with any celebrity, there are temptations for the sporting mascot, such as unscrupulous types waiting to accelerate their downfall for their own gains by exploiting any furry foot put wrong. The seedier side of the mascot life is just a flip of the coin away.

When fake animals attack

Take Wolfie, the mascot of another English soccer team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolfie used to rally the crowds with playful and endearing kick-arounds with the opposing mascots before his team took to the pitch. That is until the arrival of Bristol City's Three Little Pigs. In front of a television audience of millions, Wolfie lost his cool in the pre-match contest and ended up battling all three pigs in a pitch-side punch-up. Needless to say, he never worked in that town again.

As the only official mascot of the World Cup, Goleo may not have any rivals to face and so potential fisticuffs should be avoided. But even if he keeps his cold, wet nose clean, Goleo must go into this new phase with his eyes open to the realities.

A mascot's shelf life is a tangible one. Fame and fortune are assured in the run-up to the event and during it, but only the most endearing mascots linger in the memory when the glory fades.

The "Aah" factor

Eines der Maskottchen der olympischen Spiele in Athen 2004
Image: dpa

Take the recent Athens Summer Olympic Games. Can anyone name the two asexual triangles that passed as the event's co-mascots? Well, they were Phevos and Athena, the siblings named after Greek gods who represented the link between Greek history and the modern Olympic Games. The cumbersome and non-cuddly icons drew more baffled looks and questions than adoration this summer.

However, they contributed to the $81 million (€63 million) or so that Athens merchandising generated. Their success was assured mainly due to the usual ploy of covering everything from baby bonnets to thongs in their images. If you wanted anything Olympic, you had to have Phevos and Athena on it. But despite this, it is unlikely that they will be the enduring memory of the games. They didn't have that cute "aah" factor that mascots who want to live on need.

In Portugal, the super-human wunderkind Kinas, the mascot for the European soccer championships this summer, has also sunk without a trace.

Kinas das Maskottchen der Fussball Europameisterschaft 2004 in Portugal
"Kinas," the Euro 2004 European soccer championship mascot.Image: AP

The boy who was supposed to "embody the enthusiasm, skill, determination and sense of fun that make football the greatest sport on earth" has rarely been seen since and must be cursing his luck that he was chosen to front a tournament which would provide one of the greatest shocks in soccer history.

Germany's Goleo may have an advantage. He is a cuddly, eight-foot (2.4 meter) tall lion with a touch of "Sesame Street" about him and not some cartoon child or a geometric shape with big feet. But even a moth-eaten, threadbare Misha will tell him to enjoy the good times when they come because the light of the mascot burns fast and bright but can fade just as quickly.