That picture up there is the freshly-unveiled 2018 World Cup mascot, Zabivaka.
Zabivaka is probably Russian for wolf or something, I’ve done zero research here beyond seeing that picture. It’s a wolf drawn in a style of animation that looks like it’d be cutting-edge fun for American kids as part of a 1992 Burger King ad campaign, and since Russia normally has about a 25-year lag when it comes to these sorts of things, that checks out.
But, here’s the more important question: why the hell does a World Cup need a mascot?
Traditionally, mascots are hit-or-miss. The best ones are lovingly identified with one team, wreaking mischief and mayhem on unsuspecting people in the crowd. The worst ones need to put on a pair of pants. (Sorry, Clark. I like you more than I thought I would, at least.)
But overall, the key to a mascot is that it’s there for a team. It builds continuity. If you go to a Phillies game, you’re seeing the Phanatic. If you’re going to a Purdue game, you’re seeing this horrific visage in your dreams for years after:
The World Cup, though, is a singular event. Individual teams don’t really have mascots, though if England wanted to start bringing three actual lions it couldn’t hurt.
What possible purpose does a World Cup mascot serve? It’s the World Cup! Everyone knows about it already. Russian children aren’t going to be more or less likely to go to a World Cup match thanks to a sporty wolf. (ASportyWolf, by the way, is Putin’s OKCupid username.)
I could even see it making sense if the World Cup had a consistent mascot, so every four years we got to see, I don’t know, Timmy the Money Laundering Squirrel or whatever else best represents FIFA’s particular approach to athletics. But that’s not even true. Quick, can anyone name the 2014 World Cup mascot?
Of course not. It was this guy:
(Apparently they went to pick out a mascot at the last second, only to find out all the Santa costumes were gone.)
It’s an inherently pointless adornment to advertising and marketing, yet every four years they trot out some loser in a poorly-designed outfit and we’re supposed to care.
At least the World Cup sticks to animals; the Olympics have individual mascots too, and they’re terrifyingly abstract, like some kind of fever dream/nightmare.
Here are Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 mascots, as they prepare to devour a group of Brazilian children:
These things exist only to strike fear into the hearts of right-thinking individuals, and to attempt to make FIFA and the IOC seem cuddly and cute. (Softening their images and focusing attention away from the various financial crimes and human atrocities these organizations oversee.)
World Cup mascots are dumb.
At least this one is wearing pants.