Supersonic cracks of incessant vuvuzelas, thundering bellows of the crowd in complete harmony with the 22-men in scramble for the Jabulani ball, spikes and crashes of raging adrenaline: this was the Soccer World Cup 2010 in the rainbow nation of South Africa.
But there was something more to this frenzy of sports beyond the stadiums.
Paul the Octopus
As dreams were fulfilled and crushed and countries let out patriotic shouts of anguish and celebration, a small, modest mollusk made its way to the stage. He brought with him a powerful talent: prediction. Paul the Octopus, as he was called, became a worldwide phenomenon after he correctly foresaw the outcome of seven of the German team’s matches, and the result of the final game.
As India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh host the 10th Cricket World Cup, one can only wonder if the subcontinent might find a magical crustacean/mollusk/annelid of its own.
Paul’s presence in the Soccer World Cup was not singularly a gimmicky one, but one with profound and wide ranging impacts. Prediction oracles marked their prominent debut in the sports marketing arena through Paul. Marketing experts predicted that Paul could have been worth millions of dollars in endorsements, “If you get it right, and remember Paul has worldwide success… you’re talking an earning potential of £2 or £3 million (up to $4.5 million), maybe more,” said PR guru Max Clifford in an interview to CNN on 14 July 2010.
With no potential contenders in sight for a similar position in the Cricket World Cup, the future of lighthearted deep-sea marketing seems hazy. The addition of a similar publicity stunt should certainly allow the cricket advertising industry to rake in some more money.
Paul also introduced a universalizing quality to the World Cup. Not everyone understands football. The game can be confusing, complicating, and for some: outright boring. Paul created excitement for those outside the realm of football fans (of which there are many, no doubt). “I actually began to have a greater interest in the games and actually sat to watch them through, to see if he [Paul] would be correct,” said Nidhi Saxena, a basketball enthusiast at Wellesley College.
The lack of a similar unifying symbol in this Cricket World Cup may fail to attract strangers to the game. “I was already a football fan, but he [Paul] certainly did make the game more grabbing, and perhaps I would be more compelled to watch cricket, as a foreigner to the sport, with the excitement from a similar predictor,” said Leon De Boer, a Dutch student at the American Embassy School in New Delhi.
Paul, despite his limitations of eight sucker-bearing arms, a soft saclike body and no internal shell, revolutionized the football industry, even if it was only for a year. Only time will tell if a Bengali Crab or Bihari Prawn will make its way to the prophesying front. There will however, for the meantime, be no crazed fans celebrating and mourning the plight of the shellfish in the streets of Delhi.
Until then: RIP Paul, January 2008 – October 2010.
Raghav Verma studies at the American Embassy School, New Delhi.