Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An armadillo and the FIFA

Three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus)
Although I am now living in Canada for over 8 years I am clinging on to some of my European habits and preferences. One is that when it comes to sports I clearly favor football and I mean the real football which in some regions of the planet is called soccer. Somehow, I am not really warming up to the game in which you use wooden or carbon fiber sticks to shoot a small disc made of solid, vulcanized rubber into a very small goal. 

Like it or not I am not alone:
Football is the most popular sport in the world, with an estimated 270 million people actively involved in the game. With 209 national associations, the football's principal governing body—the FIFA—has more members than the United Nations, and the estimated audience of the final match of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010 surpassed one billion people.

For the 2014 World Championships in Brazil, the FIFA has adopted the endemic Brazilian Three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus), an endangered species, as its mascot. They named it Fuleco by combining the Portuguese words for football ("futbol") and ecology ("ecologia"). The armadillo, when threatened, will protect itself by rolling up into a ball. The mascot plays an essential part in driving the environmental awareness of the World Cup.

Two species of Tolypeutes occur in Brazil, the endangered and endemic Tolypeutes tricinctus and the lesser-known Tolypeutes matacus. Although decreasing in population, there is no conservation plan for both species. The animals, and some 20 million people live in an area known as Caatinga, a tropical dry forest that once covered 845,000 square km in northeastern Brazil. This area has been reduced in by 53% . Despite being known as a biodiversity-rich region, the Caatinga is among the least known and least protected of all Brazilian ecosystems.

In an article published in the upcoming issue of Biotropica, researchers challenge the role that the FIFA and the Brazilian government play in protecting the environment. They are asking both to protect 1,000 hectares of the critically endangered Caatinga ecosystem for each goal scored in the World Cup. A scientific publication to raise awareness is certainly unusual but why not? Organizers of big events are nowadays quick to point out that they plan environmentally friendly and in a sustainable fashion. Unfortunately, these plans are only partially realized and so it seems the case again:

FIFA's environmental aim for the 2014 FIFA World Cup is described in the ‘Football for the Planet’ program: (1) monitoring of and compensation for greenhouse gases emissions resulting from the main activities related to the event; (2) certified ‘green stadiums’; and (3) waste management and recycling. After the initial frenzy surrounding, Fuleco™'s selection as mascot, the rich Brazilian biodiversity, this species was chosen to represent seems to have been completely forgotten by the FIFA's official environmental program. Indeed, not a single action for protecting this endangered species or its habitat has been proposed by the organizers of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

So, this challenge has my full support both as biodiversity researcher and as football fan.

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