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FIFA 2018 World Cup mascot: The secret dark side of Zabivaka

October 26th, 2016



Out of the three prospective official mascot designs for the upcoming 2018 FIFA football World Cup in Russia, Zabivaka the wolf was chosen by a landslide, easily beating the competition – a tiger and a cat. He is a charismatic character, whose official biography describes him as “charming, confident and social”, and as “a fair player, [who] values his team members and respects his opponents”. Yet, unbeknownst to most translators, his name tells a different story…

According to Fifa.com, the wolf’s name “hints at ‘the one who scores’ in Russian”. This is true, as it is derived from the word “zabivat” (забивать), i.e. “to score”. Left unsaid is the fact that the name is in fact a pun: “Zabivaka” is practically one letter away from the word “zabiyaka” (забияка), which roughly translates to “bully”, or at least “someone who is constantly looking to start a fight”. Surprisingly, nobody has yet proposed to render his name in English as “Bally”.

This opens up a host of unfortunate implications. Setting aside the obvious fact that being a battle-lusting troublemaker is inappropriate for a football player – or indeed, for any sportsman – there is also the idea that football fans, especiallyin Russia, are rather infamous rabble-rousers of their own right. These are just someof the reasons Russia of all countries should perhaps have shied away from a wolf (an animal often depicted in folklore is violent and aggressive) whose name hints at the word “bully” for a mascot.

Regardless, what is done is done, and we can now only hope that the World Cup will unfold in such a way that will not make the mascot’s name seem prophetic, turning it into a subject of bitter mockery. Still, a lingering question remains in the back of one’s mind: if Zabivaka truly is this stalwart ideal of a fair player, then why bestow upon him such an unfortunate name? Could there be more to him than meets the eye? A hidden lust to slam his foot into a different kind of balls? One wonders. One wonders, indeed…


 About the Author:

Daniil Stoenko is a professional writer and translator who produced a variety of articles for LogoBee’s Logo Design Blog over the years.


Leave Your Comment

I think the design looks friendly and playful. I believe the idea of having a mascot character for every major event is directed toward the kids. Marketing strategy to sell more memorabilia (for kids).

by PavelNovember 04, 2016