THE tension is mounting; World Cup fever is upon us. Will our
team sing the National Anthem properly? Will the armadillo be
saved? And when is a sports venue not a sports venue?
The England football manager Roy Hodgson wants to demonstrate
patriotism by making sure that the players all sing the National
Anthem when in Brazil: "You very rarely play against opponents who
haven't got their hands on their hearts when singing their anthem
as loud as they can," he says, and he wants the England boys doing
So as well as practising penalties they will also need some song
practice, brushing up on the words beyond "God save our gracious
Queen, long live our. . ." But when asked if the substitutes also
had to sing, Hodgson was not sure. "Do they all sing it? . . . I
hope they will."
More pressing, however, is the future of the three-banded
armadillo, which is the official Brazilian World Cup mascot but is
in danger of extinction. Income from merchandise featuring the
animal is worth millions to FIFA. And conservationists say that
some of this money should be invested in protection for the
Known locally as the tatu bola, or armadillo ball, it
protects itself when threatened by rolling its flexible armour into
an impenetrable ball. But, unlike other armadillo species, the
tatu bola is not adapted to life underground, and the
ground above is fast disappearing.
Flavia Miranda, the deputy chair of the Anteater, Sloth, and
Armadillo Specialist group at the International Union for
Conservation of Nature, says: "In the last Brazilian list of
endangered species, the three-banded armadillo moved from
'vulnerable' to 'in danger', because it's lost nearly 50 per cent
of its habitat in the past 15 years."
There are other issues: the unique defensive strategy of
becoming a ball may have helped it to survive 140 million years of
evolution, but leaves it vulnerable to human beings; for when it
rolls into a ball, it remains stationary. Scientists and
conservationists believe that FIFA should fund protected space in
which it can thrive. But there is no sign of that, yet.
Both these stories, however, have been swallowed up by a
shocking World Cup bribery scandal that is not shocking anyone. How
Qatar got the nod for the World Cup in 2022 baffled many, given
that the country is too hot for football, and does not possess a
stadium. Now the Sunday Times reports that payments of
millions of pounds were made to officials who supported the
The bid committee for Qatar denies these allegations; but the
bleak backdrop is the deaths, so far, of an estimated 1200 migrant
construction workers in the £120-billion push to create the
necessary sporting infrastructure.
Oh, and apparently World Cups also involve some football