MOSCOW (Reuters) – Zabivaka the wolf followed in the footsteps of Naranjito the orange, Footix the football-playing rooster and Fuleco the armadillo by being named as the official mascot of the 2018 World Cup on Saturday.
FIFA described its latest creation, unveiled during a live television show in the presence of Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko and former Brazil striker Ronaldo, as “a wolf who radiates fun, charm and confidence”.
The wolf, whose name according to FIFA means “the one who scores”, received 53 per cent of the more than one million votes cast in a poll, beating a tiger (27 percent) and a cat (20 percent).
“I am sure Zabivaka will be a massive hit among fans at the Confederations Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia,” said Mutko, who is also head of the Russian Football Union (RFU) and the local organizing committee.
“Our mascot is tasked with inspiring supporters, getting the wider population involved in football and inviting them to the stadiums in order to experience memorable and positive emotions.
“Millions of Russian football fans took part in the vote and this means Zabivaka will do a worthy job representing our country around the world.”
Mutko was named as deputy prime minister for sports, tourism and youth policy on Wednesday, an effective promotion from his previous governmental role as sports minister. On Thursday, he said he may step down as RFU president.
Other mascots over the years have included ‘Zakumi’ the leopard from South Africa 2010, ‘Pique’ the chili pepper from Mexico 1986, a lion named ‘World Cup Willie’ from England in 1966 and “Gauchito” from Argentina in 1978.
Naranjito was Spain’s mascot in 1982 and Footix represented France in 1998.
“Mascots are great ambassadors for promoting the event and bring so much joy to the stadiums,” said Ronaldo. “(Zabivaka) will surely be remembered for a very long time by football fans all over the world.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Nick Mulvenney)