A cuddly leopard with a green afro and named Zakumi will be the mascot of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The leopard leaped through a beaded curtain Monday to mark its introduction. A costumed performer kicked a soccer ball with Mark Fish, who helped lead South Africa to the African Cup of Nations title in 1996.
The first two letters of Zakumi are the country's initials in Afrikaans one of South Africa's 11 official languages. "Kumi" means 10 for the year of the tournament in many African languages, World Cup organizers said.
Tim Modise, spokesman for the South African organizing committee, said zakumi also can be understood as "come here" in southern African languages.
Zakumi was given a biography and name evoking South Africa's history and hopes. The character was "born" June 16, 1994, tournament organizers said. The year is when apartheid ended and the date is celebrated as Youth Day to mark the Soweto uprising of 1976, remembered as the day when young South Africans struck a blow against white rule.
This will be the first World Cup held in Africa, and preparations have brought concerns about delays, costs, crime and transportation.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter was in South Africa last week. He visited stadiums and met with former President Nelson Mandela, who helped South Africa secure the World Cup. He said he was pleased with progress and was convinced this will be a "great World Cup."
Blatter also said South Africa needs to generate more excitement about the tournament. He urged more advertising and publicity and said he raised the issue with local organizers.
Officials' truce being strained
A referee sends off the wrong player in a Champions League game. Officials mistakenly award a goal that never happened in a Football League Championship match in England.
It was a bad week for those in charge of keeping control of soccer games, and it came at a time when referees are demanding respect from players and managers.
The truce players and managers signed at the start of the Premier League season in which they would avoid criticizing officials is just about holding after a month of play. There are signs, however, it is being stretched to breaking point.
Coaches such as Everton's David Moyes have been banished from the bench for protesting a referee's decision. Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson accused the head of Premier League referees of showing favoritism toward Chelsea after a red card given Blues captain John Terry was rescinded.
Referee Mike Riley showed eight yellow cards at Sunday's Chelsea-Man United 1-1 draw seven to visiting Red Devils and the game ended in acrimony. Angry United players surrounded Riley demanding explanations and accusing Chelsea's Didier Drogba of cheating.
Despite the card count in their team's favor, Chelsea fans also abused Riley as he left the field at Stamford Bridge.
That's because the official called an end to the game after Drogba had been fouled by Rio Ferdinand on the edge of the United penalty area. With Chelsea pressing for the winner, the Blues wanted the free kick and Ferdinand sent off.
Ferdinand stormed off the field in a fury at Riley and Drogba, and Ferguson went on to call his players away from the referee.
With the season still in its early stages and several more months to go before titles are handed out, coaches are containing themselves regarding referees.
Ferguson, who has a history of berating officials and opposing managers, restricted his remarks this time to saying it was a shame that a game being screened worldwide on TV should have so many yellow cards, which will lead to a fine of more than $46,000 for his club.
Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari backed the officials.
"I'm not surprised there were so many yellow cards," the former Brazil and Portugal coach said. "The referee is there for this. If players don't respect him they should get a yellow or red. Not only for Manchester United Chelsea, Liverpool, any club if they don't respect the referee."
But another big blunder by a referee or a linesman might test Scolari's patience.
Last Wednesday, Italian referee Matteo Trefoloni sent off Aalborg's Michael Beauchamp for hauling down Celtic forward Giorgios Samaras, even though it was clear that another defender, Michael Jakobsen, committed the foul. UEFA eventually overturned the decision and handed the one-game suspension to Jakobsen.
On Saturday, a linesman flagged for a goal for Reading against Watford after he thought he saw the ball cross the goal line. The ball actually went wide of the post, but the referee, at 25 the youngest in the league, went with his linesman's decision and mistakenly awarded the goal, which stood in a 2-2 draw.
"My conclusion is obviously that it wasn't right," Reading manager Steve Coppell said Monday. "If the authorities decide a replay is the correct thing to do then I've got no objections whatsoever."
League officials said Monday there would be no replay.
Trefoloni's blunder was in a 0-0 draw and didn't affect the result. But what if the next one hands three points to one of the leading league title contenders or leads to one of them being knocked out of the Champions League or domestic cup competitions?
Scolari's faith in the referees may not be so strong if Chelsea is the victim of a referee's mistake and goes another season without the Premier League or Champions League title.
And, truce aside, surely Ferguson won't be so forgiving if a referee's mistaken whistle or a blundering linesman's flag means the Red Devils lose the Premier League or Champions League.
Dubai not buying soccer team
Dubai International Capital LLC said it's not involved in a renewed bid for Premier League soccer team Liverpool Liverpool, and denied talks with the team's American owners are taking place.
"DIC can confirm that it is not involved in any negotiations to buy LFC and is not planning a fresh bid for LFC or any other football club," the United Arab Emirates-based company said in an e-mailed statement today.
Dubai International, which owns shares in HSBC Holdings Plc, Sony Corp. and the European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., has also been linked with a move to purchase Newcastle United, after its owner put the club up for sale yesterday.
West Ham loses shirt off back
West Ham United lost its shirt sponsor after the administrator for XL Leisure Group Plc cancelled the three-year contract.
The team will remove or cover the XL logo on the front of their jerseys for tomorrow's away match at U.K. Premier League soccer rival West Brom Albion, team spokesman Greg Demetriou said. Administrators took control of XL Leisure and terminated its deal with the Hammers.
"We contacted the club this morning to notify them that we are no longer carrying on with the sponsorship agreement," Suzanne Ivory, a spokeswoman for administrator Kroll said in an interview.
West Ham finished 10th in the 20-team league last season. The East London team had received 2.5 million pounds ($4.5 million) from a 7.5 million-pound, three-year deal it signed with the Crawley, England-based travel company in February 2007, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported on its Web site. The club released a statement on its Web site saying it decided to "immediately terminate their relationship with XL Holidays."
Combined wire sources