New research in Biotropica asks FIFA to follow through with its environmental claims. The 2014 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup will be played in Brazil. Its "Football for the Planet" program aims to monitor greenhouse gasses, provide environmentally friendly stadiums, and better waste management. However, FIFA has not maximized this opportunity. In an article published in the upcoming issue, researchers challenge the role that FIFA and the Brazilian government play in protecting the environment, asking both to: protect 1,000 hectares of the critically endangered Caatinga ecosystem – the natural habitat for its World Cup mascot, Fuelco - for each goal scored in the World Cup.
For the 2014 FWC in Brazil, FIFA has adopted the endemic Brazilian Three-banded armadillo, 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 T. tricinctus and the lesser-known T. matacus. Although decreasing in population, there is no conservation plan for the species. The animal, 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 that has been reduced in area by 53 percent. Despite being known as a biodiversity-rich region, the Caatinga is the least protected of the Brazilian ecosystems.
"Protecting the remaining Caatinga is extremely urgent. We want the choice of one of the Caatinga's most iconic species as the World Cup mascot to be more than just a symbolic one", says José Alves Siqueira, one of the paper's authors and a Professor at the Federal University of the Valley of São Francisco.
However, after the frenzy that centered around the Fuelco mascot fizzled, the environmental claims have not been fulfilled. The authors suggest steps that the federation and government can take to reaffirm their positions on providing an ecologically-friendly World Cup, such as promoting the 'Parques da Copa' project, protecting areas of the Caatinga, and instituting a conservation plan for the Tolypeutes tricinctus species.
"The Caatinga is a uniquely Brazilian ecosystem. By acting boldly and swiftly, FIFA and the Brazilian government could help save the Brazilian Three-banded armadillo and protect thousands of hectares of its habitat", says Enrico Bernard, another author also based at the Federal University of Pernambuco. "That would be the best goal scored this Cup."
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Melo, F. P., Siqueira, J. A., Santos, B. A., Álvares-da-Silva, O., Ceballos, G. and Bernard, E. (2014), Football and Biodiversity Conservation: FIFA and Brazil Can Still Hit a Green Goal. Biotropica. DOI: 10.1111/btp.12114