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Zakumi the Leopard is World Cup mascot
by Mike Woitalla, September 23rd, 2008 7AM

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Zakumi the Leopard is the official mascot of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Zakumi, the 12th World Cup mascot since the tradition began in 1966, is the third of the feline persuasion after World Cup Willie (1966) and Goleo, the big pantless lion of Germany 2006. Only once has a dog had the honor - USA 1994's Striker.

Zakumi's name is a composition of "ZA," which stands for South Africa, and "kumi," the word for "10" in several African languages.

"Zakumi is a proud South African and, as such, an ideal ambassador for the first African World Cup," said Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the local organizing committee. "He was born in 1994, the same year as the country's democracy. He is young, energetic, smart and ambitious, a real inspiration for young and old, not only in our country."

The first World Cup was played in 1930, but not until 1966 did the tournament get a mascot, when England introduced the Union Jack-clad lion named Willie.

After Willie, the next three mascots were boys: Mexico 1970's Juanito, West Germany 1974's Tip & Tap and Argentina 1978's Gauchito.

The first fruit to be made mascot was Naranjito, the smiling orange of Spain 1982, followed by Mexico 1986's Pique, a chili pepper.

Italy 1990 was represented by a red-green-white stick figure with a soccer-ball head named Ciao.

Animals returned in 1994 with Striker the dog and the smiling cockerel (Footix) of France 1998.

Korea/Japan 2002 brought us Kaz, Ato and Nik - described simply as "three funny creatures."

The Germans brought back the lion with Goleo in 2006, and organizers never explained why he wore a shirt but no shorts.

2010 World Cup organizers say that Zakumi "symbolizes South Africa and the rest of the African continent through his self-confidence, pride, hospitality, social skills and warm-heartedness" and that he is "jolly, self-confident, adventurous, spontaneous, and actually quite shrewd little fellow."

Zakumi dyed his hair green because he thought it provided camouflage against the green of the soccer field.

His weakness, it's reported, is a propensity to take frequent naps:

"With all his energy, he needs frequent rests. Occasionally, in-between performances on stage, he may suddenly fall asleep on the spot at the most random times."


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