World Cup leopard mascot unveiled

Johannesburg, Sept 23:

The official mascot of the 2010 World Cup was unveiled in Johannesburg — a green-haired leopard named Zakumi, FIFA announced at a television gala broadcast nationwide.

Zakumi — the ZA stands for South Africa while kumi means ten in assorted African languages — has been exclusively designed in the host country which will stage the continent’s first ever World Cup in 21 month’s time.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke explained the choice. “Zakumi represents the people, geography and spirit of South Africa, personifying in essence the 2010 FIFA World Cup,” said Valcke.

Andries Odendaal from Cape Town came up with the design — the animal’s green hair is designed to provide ‘camouflage’ on a football pitch. According to former South African star Lucas Radebe, “he wants to create a good mood for the fans and raise the excitement for the 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.”

FIFA first introduced mascots in 1966 with World Cup Willie — a Union Jack-clad English Lion. Others included the orange-shaped Naranjito in Spain in 1982, the ‘ciao’ stick-figure in Italian colours in 1990 and Footix, a French cockeral, in 1998. But the Goleo lion for the 2006 event in Germany was not a commercial success and the company that made it declared itself backrupt amid lower than expected demand for the product.