It’s no exaggeration to say that mascots are synonymous with their respective Games. They feature heavily in event venues, on merchandise and in the local community. It’s impossible to imagine Birmingham 2022 without one.
But that’s not always been the case.
The First Mascot - Edmonton, 1978
It wasn’t until the 11th edition of the Games in Edmonton in 1978 that the first-ever mascot, Keyano, made his bow. Styled after a Grizzly bear due to Edmonton’s proximity to the Canadian Rockies, Keyano’s name meant unity and brotherhood in the language of the Cree people who are native to Edmonton.
Keyano proved to be a much loved figure at the Games and, with that, a new tradition was born.
The Growth of Mascots
Four years later, when the Games headed to Brisbane, Games organisers decided to make a bigger thing of the mascot – quite literally. Standing at a whopping 13 metres tall and weighing six tonnes, Matilda would travel around the stadium winking at spectators, and even carried 20 children in her pouch during the opening ceremony!
The arrival of Mac the Scottie dog at Edinburgh in 1986 saw the mascot return to a more conventional size, before Goldie the Kiwi continued the tradition of national animals taking on the mantle at Auckland 1990.
By the time the games rolled around in Victoria in 1994, mascots’ back stories were becoming ever more elaborate. Klee Wyck the orca whale spawned a popular children’s book which introduced characters including Hagema the evil witch, who kidnapped Klee Wyck’s brother and stole her Commonwealth Games medal. (Spoiler alert: They all lived happily ever after!)
While Kuala Lumpur 1998 was a celebration of the nation’s culture in the shape of Wira the orangutan, the Manchester Games four years later saw a different approach taken with the arrival of Kit. As a Devon Rex cat, Kit wasn’t styled after an animal that had an obvious link to the host city, but his back story instead reflected his Mancunian roots.
Manchester was also unique in that Kit was joined by a second mascot, Mad Ferret (say it out loud!), who was inspired by Manchester’s music scene, boasting a Liam Gallagher-esque swagger.
Mascots with a Message
While mascots are, of course, intended to be fun, loveable figures, more recent Games have used their ambassadors to make points about issues such as sustainability and equality.
Take Karak from Melbourne 2006, for instance, who was styled after an endangered South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo to help promote the protection of the species’ future habitat. Delhi 2010’s Shera, similarly, was positioned as ‘a reminder of the fragile environment he lives in and our responsibility towards the protection of his ecosystem’.
If previous mascots had been used to focus on serious issues, the arrival of Clyde in 2014 saw the focus return firmly to fun. The first non-animal mascot in the history of the Games, the anthropomorphic Thistle was designed by 12-year-old Beth Gilmour, and remains a memorable figure.
The Latest Mascot
All of which brings us to the most recent mascot, Borobi, and one of the most detailed back-stories in the history of our mascots. The koala reflected his heritage through his name, which was inspired by the dialect of the Yugambeh people, an indigenous Australian group from the Gold Coast region. His paws also had eye-catching indigenous markings that represented each of the Commonwealth nations, albeit without the second thumb that usually allows koalas to climb tress – which instead prompted Borobi to become a surfer!
One thing that is certain from taking this whistle-stop tour through the history of Commonwealth Games mascots is that the Birmingham 2022 edition, whatever it may be, has much to live up to.
Each mascot is remembered fondly in their respective host cities, with some leaving a legacy as large as any athlete. These loveable characters have variously been eco-warriors, champions of equality, entertainers and, above all, symbols of local pride.
Mascot Makers… it’s over to you.