“The fact that the three-banded armadillo is a vulnerable species is very fitting,” Jerome Valcke, Secretary General of FIFA, said at the mascot’s official inauguration. “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.”
Environmentalists, too, hoped Fuleco would bring more attention to the plight of the endangered species.
But now, as millions around the world tune in to watch the ultimate soccer tournament, critics are claiming that FIFA’s sweet rhetoric on the environment is nothing more than crass corporate greenwashing, and that the organization is doing zip to save the unfortunate armadillo.
“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….
As for Fuleco, he has not even raised awareness of the tatu-bola’s dire straits in the wild, says Flavia Miranda, a Brazilian biologist and deputy chairwoman of the group of experts that is recategorizing the tatu-bola as endangered.
That is partly because the mascot’s official World Cup publicity barely mentions the danger the creature is in. Not to mention, the mascot looks as much like a squirrel or racoon as it does a real armadillo.
“I don’t see any benefit from this use because we are not talking about the real tatu-bola,” Miranda said. “Many people think that the species is an insect that we have here in Brazil.”