The Beautiful Game’s biggest celebration is fast approaching. Confession time: this is the probably the only sports related event that I look forward to; I always feel a special air of unity. Yet, soccer is still a sport, and there’s plenty of things wrong with sports culture. The World Cup is no exception; there are human, animal and environmental problems that the International Federation of Association Football, better known as FIFA, can and should address, especially in Brasil.
Conservationists are asking the FIFA’s World Cup to come together for a different cause during the 2014 celebration. The 2014 World Cup mascot is going to bring in big bucks for the soccer association, but no amount of money can bring back the unique Brazilian armadillo that is fast approaching extinction (again) once it’s gone forever.
Why the Brazilian Armadillo?
As reported in the International Business (IB) Times, the Brazilian armadillo was believed to be extinct in the 1990s. Brazil’s three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) was “rediscovered in a handful of isolated populations throughout eastern Brazil.” The Brazilian armadillo knows how to make a comeback, and it captures the essence of the sport.
Yet, the mascot beat out 47 other proposals for more than its comeback story. The Brazilian armadillo actually looks soccer ball-ish. As reported in The Guardian, the three-banded armadillo evolved a defense mechanism where it can roll “up into a near-perfect, football-like sphere.”
Ironically, it’s this precise defense mechanism that makes the armadillo an easy target for illegal hunting. Coupled with increasing habitat loss, the Brazilian armadillo’s extinction could be a reality in the coming decades.
Also, in the original 2012 FIFA press release appointing the official 2014 mascot, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke explained, “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.”
Fun fact: The armadillo’s name, ‘Fuleco,’ was created by marrying the words for soccer (“futbol”) and ecology (“ecologia”).
FIFA Dropping the Ball
While conservationists were originally optimistic, in the past 2 years, FIFA has really dropped the ecological ball. In the perfect conservation scenario, the Brazilian mascot would’ve highlighted the plight of the Brazilian armadillo and its habitat (the Caatinga). As reported in The Guardian, apart from a one-time World Cup sponsor donation to the Caatinga Association for $45,000, the soccer association hasn’t done much for the welfare of the armadillo or its habitat.
FIFA seems more concerned with giving soccer fans free tickets and covering “the cost to offset their [the fans'] emissions” during their travels to Brazil. This seems to be the extent of the association’s environmental goals.
There‘s Still Time for a Gol!
FIFA and the Brazilian government can do more than it’s current environmental goals. Conservationists have laid out actionable and realistic goals for the association and government to protect the Brazilian armadillo. According to an academic commentary, FIFA and Brazil can still hit a green goal. Both entities have the unique opportunity of leaving a “conservation legacy” and paying it forward to the Brazilian armadillo by:
1) Following through on the Parques da Copa project (World Cup Parks), and creating more protected areas that could serve as ecotourist spots later; one of these protected areas could include the armadillo’s habitat.
2) Creating new protected areas. The authors challenge FIFA to declare “at least 1000 hectares of Caatinga … as protected area for each goal scored” during the 2014 World Cup. Looking at past games, this potentially means that 171,000 hectares of armadillo habitat could be protected.
3) Completing, publishing and implementing concrete conservation plans for the Brazilian armadillo. Even though the IUCN determined that the Brazilian armadillo was “vulnerable” both in 1996 and 2002, the government still hasn’t completed and published a conservation plan to save the species from extinction.
Soccer is a beautiful game, but saving Tolypeutes tricinctus is a more beautiful cause. Come on, FIFA, you can do more for ecology by saving Fuleco. If you pay it forward, then I might have an easier time tuning in this year.
Photo Credit: Michael Bentley