I was a child when England won the football World Cup in 1966 but I remember it vividly. I could still name the entire team and remember the drama unfolding at Wembley Stadium: the dodgy Russian linesman giving us the goal that never was, the extra time, Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick and the immortal commentary line “They think it’s all over…it is now!”
These were more innocent times and the kids in our neighbourhood celebrated by charging round the street on our bikes singing the praises of “World Cup Willie”. Willie was the mascot for the 1966 World Cup, as I recall, a proud looking little cuddly lion wearing a union jack vest.
Forty-four years later, another World Cup is upon us in South Africa and mascots are now part of the event. Some could argue they are something that nobody needs, manufactured for no purpose other than profit for the organisers. For others, it is an essential part of the experience and a lasting memory of the event. I wonder how many of today’s eight year olds will remember the 2010 mascot when they are in their fifties?
The mascot for the World Cup in South Africa came under severe criticism recently, with allegations of child labour, polluting factories and excessive profiteering. This is damaging to the reputation of the event, the sport and the nation.
The Games in Beijing had not one mascot but five. Known as “Fuwas”, they were everywhere; including people dressed up as them dancing round the track at every event. I hated them but the Chinese people seemed to love them and they sold by the bucketload in the retail nirvana that Beijing has become.
London 2012 will soon announce the design for the London 2012 mascot. This will be London’s calling card for the next two years and will become part of the experience of the Games. If this mascot, and other merchandise, is to support the “Most sustainable Games ever”, LOCOG will need to pay meticulous attention to how merchandise is made, where it is made, what it is packed in and what happens to it when people get bored with it. The signs so far are good. Toy manufacturer Hornby has changed its packaging strategy as a result of being the first supplier of official merchandise to a sustainable London 2012. The LOCOG commercial team are very sharp and aware of these issues. Of course the Commission will continue to focus on this important issue as we get closer to the Games.
I think I can be pretty confident the new mascot will not be called Willie. Whatever form it takes, London cannot afford to get this wrong if the Games are to set an example of sustainable and ethical practice.