Za-ku-who? World Cup leopard hard to spot (Feature)
By Clare Byrne Jul 1, 2010, 15:33 GMT
Johannesburg - They seek him here, they seek him there - a yellow leopard with spiky green hair who answers to the name of Zakumi.
But spotting this big kitty is nearly as difficult as spotting a real leopard, begging the question: Has the World Cup mascot gone awol?
'I saw him at the opening ceremony,' Jermaine Craig, spokesman for the World Cup local organizing committee, said at FIFA's daily briefing Thursday.
'I've seen it on TV a number of times,' FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot joined in.
Both begin to reminisce about their last sightings.
Maingot said he ran into him at the office.
Craig remembers seeing Zakumi strut his stuff on the sidelines during half-time in a game on Youth Day on June 16 but admits: 'he has been a bit quiet.'
'Maybe he's here?' Maingot says, swinging around in his chair in the press centre at Soccer City, looking for the leopard's likeness.
Outside the stadium, a policeman swears he saw him at a game between Argentina and he doesn't-remember-whom. 'You want to see him,' he asks, directing the German Press Agency dpa to a gift shop that sells miniature made-in-China versions of the mascot.
Unveiled on national television in 2008 Zakumi gets his name from ZA (international abbreviation for South Africa) and kumi, which means 10 in several African languages and is also short for the year 2010.
Zakumi, we were told, belongs to a generation of South Africans known as the 'born frees', because he was born in 1994, the year of South Africa's first democratic elections.
His youthful get-up - green shorts and white FIFA t-shirt - are supposed to represent the teenage Rainbow Nation - spots and all.
'He is young, energetic, smart and ambitious,' Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the World Cup local organizing committee declared at his launch, even as viewers argued over Zakumi was a leopard or a cheetah.
'One thing is for sure, Zakumi will be first on the dance floor and last off it at the biggest party in the world!' FIFA promised.
And yet the only place you're sure to spot him is on the giant screens in stadiums, where he does a little pre-recorded video jive every time a player scores.
Some, like the producers of the popular Madam & Eve newspaper comic strip, have suggested that the cold weather may have dampened his enthusiasm for jumping around on the sidelines - even as a way of keeping warm.
One cartoon showed the leopard wrapped up against the cold like the abominable snowman.
Others suggest he's been outclassed as a mascot by the vuvuzela, the plastic football trumpet that has become a runaway hit with World Cup visitors.
'Bring me back a vuvuzela,' family members are demanding. No-one seems to be clamouring for a reclusive leopard.
That said, being a mascot is never a walk in the park. And Zakumi at least has the decency to wear trousers.
Goleo, the shaggy-haired lion of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, caused offence by swaggering around half-naked.