What Makes A Mascot?

2016 is shaping up to be another great summer for sports. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are landing in Rio de Janeiro, the first time the Games will have been held in South America. Meanwhile, the Uefa European Championship is visiting France, with matches in cities from Lille to Lyon, Saint Denis to Saint Etienne. With the countdowns well underway, November saw the unveiling of the events’ mascots. Unfortunately, and it really does break my heart to say this, they’re just a bit shit.

The folks behind the Olympic Games have gone for a strange yellow creature that looks a bit like Finn from Adventure Time with whiskers and cat ears. Its Paralympic counterpart, meanwhile, might seem a little familiar to any Pokemon fans out there – it’s essentially a stretched-out, teenage Oddish. Supposedly, the two represent the flora and fauna of Brazil, but they look a lot more like something you might find in a Tokyo vending machine.

The Olympic mascots are nothing compared to what Uefa have come up with for the Euros in France, though.  Excited fans got a chance to see their mascot revealed before a friendly match last month, and I can only imagine their disappointment when they saw what they’ve been lumbered with: a nondescript little boy wearing a cape. “Super Victor”, as he has been so imaginatively named, is quite simply the most boring sports mascot I have ever seen.

It would seem, though, that the rubbish 2016 mascots are following a trend. London 2012 was a triumph in many ways for Britain, but the mascot, a bit of steel called Wenlock with one startled eye, was probably the crappest ever to have graced a souvenir T-shirt. In a deficit of imagination that makes Super Victor look positively groundbreaking, the Euro 1992 mascot was essentially a recolouring of the rabbit character called Berni that had appeared four years earlier. They didn’t even give him a cool new Swedish name, either: they called him Rabbit.

So what actually makes for a good mascot? When it comes to international events, the best mascots have tended to reflect something of the host country’s culture, preferably in a cute and cuddly form. Our very own Clyde, for the 2014 Commonwealth Games,  was a perfect example: an obvious symbol of Scotland, cartoonish and fun, and designed by a local kid to boot. While the Brazilian mascots are trying to do something similar, they’re not recognisably Brazilian, or recognisably anything, really. The best that can be said about Super Victor is that he represents kids across France who dream of playing brilliant football, but if he’s supposed to be representative, then it’s a little problematic that he’s very white, in a country where the football team reflects the very multicultural population.

Hopefully we can expect Super Victor to provide us with some pitch-side entertainment, at least. A quick YouTube search reveals page upon page of mascots getting into surreal brawls, falling down stairs, or generally causing havoc. The majority seem to come from the weird and wonderful USA, but mascots here in Scotland have hit the headlines with their antics, too: Dunfermline Athletic’s cuddly teddy bear Sammy the Tammy was slammed a few years ago for appearing on the pitch in a cardboard box tank and ‘firing’ at Raith Rovers fans, and Paisley Panda of St Mirren caused chaos at a match against Aberdeen by mimicking sex with an inflatable sheep. Never mind the top quality sports on offer: when mascots start to feel mischievous, well, that’s when the real magic happens.

[Lauren Cummings – @__laurenC]

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