Like it or not, the World Cup 2014 is nearly upon us! June 12 will see the host nation Brazil kick off festivities for the battle of the ultimate honor and bragging rights in International football, the FIFA World Cup Trophy. 32 countries will play off over 64 games, in 12 different cities over a period of 1 month. This is an absolute dream for the football enthusiast amongst us. However, conservationists in Brazil are not sharing the same fervent enthusiasm.
Fuleco, a portmanteau of the Portuguese words “Futebol” (“football”) and “Ecologia” (“Ecology”), has been chosen as the World Cup mascot and marketing tool for merchandise and souvenirs. However, many scientists believe that Fuleco can be used for so much more than just brand licensing.
You see Fuleco is a Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) that has a predatory defense mechanism whereby it rolls up into an almost impenetrable ball. Easy to see really why it was picked as the official mascot. However, this particular armadillo has been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a vulnerable species after a >30% decline in population over the last 10 years. Upon recent evaluation the species has been moved from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘in danger’. This increased decline has mainly been due to ongoing exploitation of the dry woodlands habitat where the armadillo is uniquely found, called the Caatinga. Brazil covers nearly half the surface area of South America, with Caatinga covering almost 10% of the country. Only 1% of the Caatinga has been designated as a conservation area making it one of the least protected Brazilian ecosystems. Deforestation for firewood, expansion of livestock ranching and hunting are the chief culprits.
All seemed well back in November 2012 when the official mascot was announced, reported as been a “goal scored for armadillo conservation”. The chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission, Dr Mariella Superina said, “We are sure that the fact that a threatened species is featured in such an important event will not only trigger conservation initiatives to save the Brazilian three-banded Armadillo from extinction, but also help increase awareness for biodiversity conservation in general”. It was believed funding would be put in place to undertake several scientific projects including raising awareness for conservation issues amongst the local population and setting up areas of protection. So far however, FIFA has distanced itself from these conservation plans even though the football governing body said, “the official mascot can play a key role in driving environmental awareness”. It seems crazy to think that none of the millions in revenue that the Fuleco brand licencing creates for FIFA can be reinvested into the maintenance of the three-banded armadillo and its habitat; there is only one side that is winning here.
With the amount of money Russian oligarchs spend on real life fantasy football teams spiraling out of control and footballers taking home more money weekly than the average UK worker takes home in a decade, football is getting a bad reputation and rightly so. With market research from FIFA showing that at least 95% of the Brazilian population are aware of Fuleco, and with the World Cup among the world’s most widely viewed sporting events, it seems so illogical that money generated by the event cannot be used to aid local and global issues and enhance footballs tarnished image. Unfortunately FIFA’s image doesn’t seem to be getting any cleaner with allegations of corruption into the selection of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup and human right breaches. Lets hope that a governing association with such clout can start to get things right sooner rather than later.
So, who do we want to win the FIFA World Cup 2014 here at Notch? We are all routing for the Brazilian three-banded armadillo to come out on top. Viva Fuleco!!