So, who are the kids at the World Cup walking out of the tunnel alongside the players? Let’s explore how World Cup mascots came to be a thing.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup is officially underway and a longstanding tradition in the football world is back: the practice of players walking onto the pitch with adorable children wearing matching kits. Interchangeably referred to as mascots or player escorts, these kids are a part of pre-game revelry that makes the game all the more memorable for everyone involved.
Player escorts were first introduced more than 20 years ago at the 2002 men’s FIFA World Cup hosted by Japan and South Korea. UNICEF and FIFA teamed up on a campaign called Say Yes For Children — per a release at the time, the program sought “to promote and protect the right of all children to healthy recreation and quality primary education.”
So, how are World Cup mascots selected for such an honor on the sport’s biggest stage?
In some cases around the world, it’s as easy as writing a check — a December 2014 piece from The Guardian shared results from an investigation that Premier League clubs were charging roughly £600 ($724) to grant mascot privileges. In addition to walking out with players, select packages include hospitality benefits at the designated game, a free junior kit, signed footballs, photos of the day, match tickets, and more. That was nearly a decade. Couple the popularity of the custom with rising inflation costs, and that number is probably in the four-digit range now.
2023 Women’s World Cup Mascots in Australia and New Zealand
While McDonald’s and UNICEF handle the logistics on the men’s side, sponsor Commonwealth Bank will be tasked with that responsibility for this summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand. Who are the kids at the World Cup set to walk out with the players this year, then?
According to a November announcement, the CommBank FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Player Escort Programme will showcase 1,500 children between the ages of 6 and 10 accompanying the world’s best footballers onto the pitch before matches throughout the competition.
“Through their investment in Australian football since 2021, Commonwealth Bank have demonstrated a genuine commitment to growing women’s football participation, creating opportunities, and championing leadership. These goals are closely aligned with the objectives of FIFA’s own women’s football strategy, so this partnership truly is an exceptional fit. We look forward to working closely with Commonwealth Bank over the coming months as together we aim to inspire kids and communities through the power of women’s football,” FIFA chief women’s football officer Sarai Bareman said when announcing the collaboration last year.
As the United States Women’s National Team looks to be the first federation ever to win three consecutive World Cups, we can only imagine how exciting it’ll be for the cohort of youths chosen to walk alongside the competing countries on Aug. 20 for all the marbles.
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