Fuwa or wuwa?

It would probably be an understatement to say I’m not much of a sports fan. Even the quadrennial Olympic games (now biennial, if you count count both Winter and Summer Olympics) have rarely captured my interest. (I do sometimes watch the Super Bowl, partly to do something with my husband that he enjoys, and partly to watch the commercials.)

I do remember watching an Olympic gymnastics competition on TV once when I was a girl, and trying to spin gracefully around the living room. I remember being at a friend’s house during the 1988 Winter Olympics, and watching some skiing and skating because that’s what my friend decided to do for the evening. I think I caught a few minutes of some swimming events at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that until tonight I didn’t even know that the Olympics had mascots. I do remember being in Spain in 1981 and seeing tons of merchandise featuring Naranjito, the smiling orange mascot for the upcoming 1982 World Cup tournament, and thinking of buying one as a souvenir even though I had no interest in soccer. But the closest I’ve ever lived to an Olympics site was when I was a student at Word of Life Bible Institute during the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid. I do not remember ever seeing any depictions of Roni the Raccoon or any Roni merchandise – though as TV’s were not allowed on campus and shopping in the nearby town was extremely limited, that’s hardly surprising. 

Apparently there is quite a history of Olympic mascots, at least since 1968 (though I notice that this pictorial history omits Roni). And, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, there is also quite a history of making fun of Olympic mascots. This year’s set of five mascots, collectively known as Fuwa (Chinese for “good-luck dolls”), seem to be particularly prone to a variety of criticisms, from their appearance (are they children? animals? aliens?) to their name (originally the “Friendlies”). And with China hit by natural disasters (earthquake, plague of locusts) and protests that followed the Olympic torch, the “good-luck dolls” have been renamed “Wuwa” (for “witch dolls”) by some Chinese.

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