Environmental conservationists call FIFA out for misusing its ‘Fuleco’ armadillo mascot


Former Brazilian soccer player Ronaldo holds the World Cup trophy next to Brazilian presenter Fernanda Lima and Fuleco, the official mascot of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. (NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Oh, FIFA, FIFA, FIFA … What is the world going to do with you? (Probably nothing, since whenever World Cup games are actually on, everyone forgets about all your shortcomings…) But since the semifinals don’t start till Tuesday, there’s room for criticism today. Let’s talk about FIFA’s mascot, shall we?

Fuleco, the World Cup’s cartoonish armadillo mascot, is at the center of environmentalists’ complaints. The mascot was supposedly created to raise awareness about the increasingly rare three-banded armadillo, or tatu-bola as the mammal’s known in Brazil. But instead, FIFA has been profiting on Fuleco stuffed animal sales, while refraining from donating any of the funds to charity, the Global Post reports. This is not how it was supposed to be.

“The fact that the three-banded armadillo is a vulnerable species is very fitting,” Jerome Valcke, Secretary General of FIFA, said about the mascot’s official inauguration in 2012. “One of the key objectives through the 2014 FIFA World Cup is to use the event as a platform to communicate the importance of the environment and ecology.”

Some are complaining now that that was all lip-service. The Global Post writes:

“It is not ethical,” says Rodrigo Castro, of Brazilian environmental group the Caatinga Association, whose campaigning was responsible for FIFA choosing the tatu-bola as the tournament mascot over 46 other proposals.

“You cannot exploit the image of an animal that is nearing extinction to make millions and then give nothing back.”

Castro says that a 10-year plan to save the armadillo would cost $12 million, and he had hoped that FIFA would contribute around 15 percent of that amount.

But although Continental Tire, one of the official sponsors of this year’s World Cup, has donated $45,000 toward the Caatinga Association’s tatu-bola project, FIFA has refused to give a single cent to any organization working to save the armadillo.

That comes despite expectations that FIFA will make millions from sales of tatu-bola stuffed animals, which retail for $14.99, and other Fuleco merchandise.

FIFA responded to the The Global Post via an email, which reporters say didn’t really address the Fuleco controversy, but instead listed other environmental achievements the association claims to have accomplished. The Global Post writes:

“Those included waste recycling, offsetting the tournament’s carbon emissions and offering spectators the chance to offset theirs for free, including for their flights to Brazil, and, of course, using Fuleco to ‘play a key role in driving environmental awareness.’

But the organization also admitted that it does “not have any direct relationship” with any group working to save the tatu-bola.”

Even FIFA’s marketing of the Fuleco has fallen short, say environmentalists, because the association rarely mentions the fact that the mascot is based on the struggling tatu-bola. (Composed of bright colors, it hardly looks like one.)

“I don’t see any benefit from this use because we are not talking about the real tatu-bola,” Brazilian biologist Flavia Miranda told The Global Post. “Many people think that the species is an insect that we have here in Brazil.” Miranda chairs the group of experts that is re-categorizing the tatu-bola as endangered.

She continued: “We are, in fact, talking about a living fossil that will cease to exist soon if it we don’t have funds to invest in a conservation program. The Cup could have had that legacy.”

(H/t: NBC Sports reports)

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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