In April, Fifa announced the official mascot for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. La’eeb is based on a Gutra or a Keffiyeh, which is an Arabic headdress, a traditional Qatari piece of clothing.
The actual name of the mascot, La’eeb, is an Arabic word that translates to “super-skilled player”, though as many fans have pointed out, La’eeb’s design doesn’t actually have any legs or feet.
Fifa hopes that La’eeb will bring the joy of football to everyone, and is included in their announcement that he lives in the “mascot-verse”, where all of the previous World Cup mascots live. There has also been a big focus on the social media aspect of a World Cup mascot - as Fifa announced that there will be downloadable GIFs and stickers as well as screensavers and filters that will be available on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and Whatsapp.
In the announcement video, La’eeb travels to the mascot-verse, which has cameos from many iconic mascots from the past and even shows La’eeb having a hand in some of the most iconic World Cup goals - Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ and Robin van Persie’s diving header.
For a World Cup mascot, there are usually two distinct categories - a person (usually a child) or an anthropomorphic animal (usually native to the host country). However, La’eeb is neither of these. As the first World Cup hosted in the Middle East, the Qatar mascot is inspired by clothing that everyone in that area can recognise and relate to, rather than a stereotypical animal such as a camel.
Previous World Cup Mascots
Some of the World Cup mascots to bypass the rule set out above are Italy 1990’s Ciao!, 2002 South Korea and Japan’s Ato, Nik and Kaz and Spain 1982’s Naranjito.
Ciao! Is a faceless stickman made up of red, white and green blocks that correspond to the Italian flag and a football for a head. Italia 1990 designed their mascot through a competition, where they received 50,000 entries, but eventually settled on Ciao! Who was designed by Lucio Boscardin, a self-taught graphic designer.
The 2002 World Cup was the first to have more than two mascots, Ato, Nik and Kaz. The three “spheriks” were completely computer-generated and had their own version of football called “atmoball”. The three names were voted on by the public online and in McDonald's restaurants in South Korea and Japan.
Naranjito, the mascot of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, is one of the most iconic World Cup mascots to date. Naranjito was created by Maria Dolores Salto and Jose Maria Martin Pacheco, with the latter stating that he preferred oranges to the stereotypical bull and tambourine as the Spanish mascot.
The orange mascot was so popular that it spawned a cartoon series and is one of the first mascots you can spot in the mascot-verse.
The human mascots include Argentina 1978’s Gauchito, West Germany 1974’s Tip and Tap and Mexico 1970’s Juanito. Gauchito is just a young boy in an Argentina kit with a matching hat and a whip - an accessory very common to gauchos (a skilled horseman, or cowboy-esque figure). Juanito is also only wearing a football kit and a sombrero, a common accessory in Mexico and one of the most associated images with the country.
Tip and Tap were two boys wearing shirts with West Germany 1974 on and football boots. This mascot was created at the time of separation in Germany and the two boys promoted the idea of German Reunification, especially as West Germany had drawn East Germany in the group stages.
By far the most popular category of World Cup mascot is the anthropomorphic animal. Seven of 15 World Cup mascots have been animals, with arguably the most iconic being Brazil 2014’s Fuleco, France 1998’s Footix and England 1966’s World Cup Willie.
Fuleco is a Brazilian three-banded armadillo who is wearing a Brazil 2014 shirt. This mascot is particularly interesting as the three-banded armadillo is only native to Brazil and is classified as a vulnerable species, therefore raising awareness for the threats against Brazil’s diverse ecosystem.
France 1998’s Footix is a cockerel which is one of France’s national symbols. Footix is mostly blue in reference to the home kit of France, and has one of the biggest legacies for World Cup mascots. France also hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2019, where the mascot was a female chicken, Ettie, who was announced as Footix’s daughter.
World Cup Willie was the first-ever World Cup mascot back in 1966. Willie was a lion who wore a Union Jack jersey with the “World Cup” written on it - a somewhat odd choice for a World Cup completely held in England rather than the UK. World Cup Willie was designed by Reg Hoye, a book illustrator, and even spawned a comic strip and a song.