Congratulations to Shera. The mascot tiger of the Commonwealth Games did not lose cheer or vigour during any of the bleak phases prior to the event. Irrespective of the state of the roofs or bathrooms in New Delhi, Shera reported for his job smiling and squeaky clean.
The health of a games mascot is a reliable indicator of a country’s progress, it would seem. For Shera to be in robust shape is perhaps an achievement of sorts for India. In our country, mascots of sports events, especially the lesser ones, are often tackily rendered. Shera is an exception to this norm. Just like Appu was. Appu, the baby elephant, was the mascot of the 1982 Asian Games. Cherubic, simply rendered and simply named, he had endeared himself to all Indians.
There are some cynics who are only grudgingly appreciative of Shera, or anyone like him. They write off the mascot as a primitive, Ronald McDonald type of marketing tool, irrelevant in an era of sophisticated toys. It is puzzling to them that a big assignment such as the marketing of a major event should be handed to an oversized doll with clunky movements instead of something more hi-tech. And it is true that sometimes, the permanent grins and random handwaving of mascots appear silly.
But if critics look at the mascot from a child’s point of view, they will realise it remains important. A likeable mascot can be a gateway for children to that particular event and, ultimately, to a life of sport. It can prolong the memory of a competition, the way Appu did.
The 2000 Sydney Olympics started the trend of naming multiple mascots. It had three mascots (Ollie, Syd and Millie). The 2004 Athens Olympics had two (Athena and Phevos). The Beijing Olympics made the mistake of creating five mascots, the Fuwa. How many remember them? Shera is a welcome return to the tradition of having a single, and therefore, recallable mascot.
The one change sports followers would not mind seeing is grown-up names for mascots. Organisers should realise it is not necessary for them to be always named like characters in Tinkle or Champak. Neither is it necessary for them to be animals. We would not mind seeing tandoori chicken as a mascot. Or a government file. Such a symbol would capture the essence of India.