The Commonwealth Games of 2018 on the Gold Coast are among the least anticipated in history. I love the Commonwealth Games though because there's a chance for the smaller countries at the Olympic Games to actually have a chance at winning something for a change; instead of the United States, China and Russia winning everything. Of course that does mean that Australia, Canada, England and New Zealand win everything but that's somehow trading one set of dullness with another.
What the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games does mean is that we get to add another member to the City of Mascots; which I'm convinced is one of the bigger towns on the Island Of Misfit Toys because almost every mascot is either boring or ugly.
However, among the trail of mascot misfits like Kobi, Izzy, Wenlock and Mandeville, and whatever Kingsley the Partick Thistle mascot is supposed to be¹, there are some brilliant ones. Here are 10.
1966 - World Cup Willie
Everything that I've found thus far seems to indicate that World Cup Willie is probably the first mascot for a cultural or sporting event. The first Olympic Games mascot was Waldi the daschund for the 1972 games in Munich, but as for anything prior to 1966, I can't find it.
Willie is so obviously a product of the 1960s when television was still mostly black and white, and when the radio and print media still ruled the world. From a design perspective, Willie in black and white would look perfect at the bottom of a newspaper page or as part of the banner graphic at the top. He also appeared on programmes and flyers, which apart from the kind of coloured paper that they would have been on, where all still black on white.
There is an error though, which is haven't heard able to determine whether or not it was deliberate. Willie is wearing a Union Jack waistcoat, which makes him look very very British. There's nothing wrong with that unless you realise that the 1966 World Cup for football was held in England and not Britain. The Home Countries have always been separate when it comes to football and even though there are outliers where individual clubs might cross border, the national teams and national Football Associations most certainly do not. The 1966 World Cup was staged by the English FA; which makes Willie's Union Jack waistcoat look kind of odd. If you look around, you will find that there are corrected versions of him in the cross of St George but these are all after the event.
It's also worth noting that although the practice of flying flags at sporting events isn't new, that particularly English display by fans abroad of defacing the Union Jack and the cross of St George with words across them centre, started in 1966; so Willie wearing the Union Jack with the words "World Cup" emblazoned upon it, is kind of prophetic.
1982 - Matilda
The continual question surrounding the Commonwealth Games is why it needs to exist, long after the British Empire has faded and died. Indeed the concept of the British Commonwealth itself is sort of a bit naff these days and the only reason that it seems to exist now, is for the Commonwealth Games.
This question isn't new. In 1982 we were asking the question of what the point of the Commonwealth Games was and having seen the success of Mischa the bear at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and the Cold War running hot, the organisers in Brisbane laid down the biggest political message that they could by having the biggest mascot that they could.
It was the giant Matilda who waltzed her way into the stadium in Brisbane that gave the Commonwealth Games the moniker of"The Friendly Games". She came in winking and smiling and from that point, the main message of the Commonwealth Games shifted from one of the dying remnants of empire to one of friendship in the Commonwealth (which we still don't have a good story for).
You can still go and look at Matilda. She is permanently behind the Matilda Service Station at Kybong².
1988 - Hodori
With the Cold War still in full swing and Moscow and Los Angeles both having hosted the Olympic Games in an act of civil sabre rattling but with a flag tied on the end, the 1988 Olympic Games served as another other major reason why a country wants to host the Olympics of the World Cup - the announcement that they have arrived.
In the late 1950s, the two Koreas were among the poorest countries in the world, after having just fought a war in that curious geopolitical dance of ideologies. A generation later, the 1988 Olympic Games saw South Korea show that they were no longer a developing nation but a full on proper first world country. Hodori was the embodiment that this Asian Tiger was making its debut on the world stage and the execution of the 1988 Olympic Games, was the proof.
Hodori is a perfectly normal mascot and completely unlike the horrorshows of the next two Olympics. He's not particularly a brave or striking design but he is good and it's good to be good.
1992 - Gatto Cristofora
World Expositions are strange things. From the Great Exposition of 1851 in London, to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, to the World's Fair of 1939 in New York, they are a showcase of the world's best and newest stuff. There was one in Brisbane in 1988 and by the time the L'Esposizione Internazionale Specializzata Genova of 1992 happened, they were old hat.
Gatto Cristofora is dressed like Christopher Columbus and while Italia '90 gave us a horrible logo and no mascot, this cat is just brilliant.
1998 - Footix
The Gallic rooster is one of the oldest puns that exists. This is like the Polish/polish question in English except that in Latin where there was mostly no lower case letters, gallus (rooster) and gallus (Gauls) are homonyms.
Footix was everywhere in France; he even had a tamagotchi type toy in which you had to keep him moving or else he'd die.
The Gallic rooster in blue, not only symbolised France and the French football team but stamped the tournament with a very strong brand of professionalism. With trading cards, enamel pins, plastic figurines in McDonald's happy meals; Footix was everywhere. It probably also helped that the official theme song of "La Copa de la Vida" by Ricky Martin was also very good and that France also won the World Cup.
2000 - Fatso
The official Olympic Games mascots of Syd, Mille and Olly were ubiquitous in Sydney in the immediately preceding months before the 2000 Olympics. I don't know what possessed Channel 7 to allow Roy and HG Nelson to hijack the Olympics but as part of The Dream which was a late night interview show, Fatso The Fat-Arsed Wombat stole the limelight from the official mascots. "The Battlers' Prince" was smuggled onto podium ceremonies, seen at various events and became so much a part of the 2000 Olympic Games that he got his own memorial pole at the Olympic Stadium along with a little Kylie Minogue.
Fatso proves that although the official propaganda for an event might very well be adequate (because there's nothing actually wrong with Syd, Millie and Olly), a mascot needs to be given a character of its own. As well as being pattern recognition machine, humans are story telling machines. If the graphics are perfectly fine but the story isn't, then you can't sell the characters. Fatso was given a subversive and cheeky story and for that reason, he has lived on as the memory of the event but Syd, Millie and Olly have not.
2010 - Zakumi
I think that Zakumi is a leopard whose colours of green and yellow, are for his native South Africa. His name means "ten" in one of the tribal languages of the rainbow nation and I have to say that he is very cute.
However, Zakumi is completely brilliant because of how he was used in the run up to the 2010 World Cup. Zakumi had his own comic strip that appeared in daily newspapers for several months and he even had a Saturday morning cartoon on television (which I've only ever been able to find in Polish for some bizarre reason). Because of this, Zakumi was given a personality and a world to live in, which means that he is possibly the only completely fleshed out character as opposed to just being a graphic device.
2015 - Nutmeg
This is the second wombat in this line up and I don't know if that says that I have a secret love for wombats but we'll let that slide. Nutmeg was given a set of reds, yellows and browns to give him a kind of indigenous look about him and his name comes from that rhyming slang description in football when you kick the ball between someone's legs. History isn't going to look kindly at Nutmeg because all the still shots of him make him look like a doofus. Yet strangely, it was his nuggety doofusness and clumsiness which makes him so endearing.
Nutmeg didn't really appear in the newspaper or get much in the way of merchandise but the place where he did his best work was on the little interstitial graphics during the broadcast of the 2015 AFC Championship for football. He'd be running around whenever the pull through messages at the bottom of the screen for substitutions and infringements took place. Occasionally he would be on the swipe through for the change of camera views for replays and he'd even appear at the top left of the screen when the score would change.
As a piece of flash animation, Nutmeg was part of the overall graphics language of the 2015 Asian Cup. He was a doofus who would be falling over, or having a goal celebration or doing a trick with the football and doing it all with enthusiasm. It's just that nobody seems to remember the spinny slidy graphics that much.
2018 - Soohorang
Soohorang appeared front and centre during the Winter Olympic broadcast. He had interstitial animations for every sport and they also gave him something of a back story, as the cousin of Hodori from the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul.
As a CGI mascot for the most tech-centric Olympics ever, Soohorang just worked really well. As an integral part of the broadcast, Soohorang gave the audience a distinct sense of a particular place and time. It also helps that he was really cute and really happy.
2018 - Borobi
There has been something of a controversy surrounding his name because some indigenous groups have objected to his name which means "Koala" in the local Yugambeh language (which actually means that his name is "Koala the Koala"), despite several years of consultation. He is a blue koala because he is supposed to represent the blue sea which the Gold Coast lies next to. I think that he's a pretty good mascot in all honesty. I've seen little Borobis on the podium at the medal ceremonies and importantly right off the starting blocks, he looks well designed.
I've seen graphics of him during the television coverage doing the sport on display (which now is something of a requirement for mascots), and he's appeared in the Courier-Mail as part of the official propaganda for the Commonwealth Games.
Yes, we have a koala for an event in Australia but there's nothing wrong with that. Yes, he is kind of everywhere but that's the point. In fact, most of the criticism that I've heard about Boribi relates to him being a successful mascot. A mascot is supposed to be an integral part of an event and as he fits very well as part of the overall colour scheme and look of the games, Borobi has certainly been part of the marketing for this.
I like Borobi. He's one of the better mascots for an event that we've had over the years. I just wish that they'd given him a comic strip to go in the newspaper. It would have been cool.
¹No really, Kingsley the Partick Thistle mascot is awful.
²Matilda watches people as they buy petrol.