Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

After their unfortunate experience with the selection of a logo, the organisers of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo have solicited designs for a mascot with understandable caution.

The initial logo design by Kenjiro Sano had to be scrapped due to allegations of plagiarism, after Belgian Olivier Debie claimed that it too closely resembled his Théâtre de Liège emblem.

Nearly 15,000 entries were received in an open contest to pick the new logos for the Games and Paralympics - in contrast to the first time round when only those who had won a specific design award were allowed to take part.

Despite criticism from some quarters that this would diminish the quality of the final result, the revised method eventually produced a winning effort designed by Asao Tokolo, a graduate of Tokyo Zokei University with a degree in architecture – although it received a mixed response when it was unveiled in April.

The deadline for the competition to design the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic mascots fell this week, and organisers reported that they had received 2,042 entries.

Members of the Tokyo 2020 mascot review panel will now whittle down the entries to a final shortlist by December, before elementary schoolchildren from across Japan make the final choice.

The pupils will vote from the shortlist and the design with the largest number of votes is scheduled to be announced as the winner in February.

Whizbee, the mascot for the World Para Athletics in London, had plenty of young fans ©Getty Images
Whizbee, the mascot for the World Para Athletics in London, had plenty of young fans ©Getty Images

Although the general public have been able to enter the design contest, they have had to follow a list of strict criteria. And whatever designs are chosen, the names will be picked by creative professionals. It’s a question of not infringing trademarks…

For the organisers of the last summer Games in Tokyo, back in 1964, there were no such ticklish concerns. The first Olympic mascot did not emerge to public gaze until the 1968 Winter Games, when Schuss, a stylised skier designed by one Mme Lafargue, enlivened the proceedings in Grenoble.

Here’s hoping it all works out for the Tokyo 2020 team come February. But I can’t help thinking, if the Japanese have anything resembling the BBC children’s show Blue Peter, they might have been best advised simply to let its young viewers get on with the job of producing what was required.

Because that process has worked out a treat for the recently concluded International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in London and the World Para Athletics Championships that preceded them at Stratford’s Olympic stadium in July.

Both mascots – Whizbee the Bee at the World Para Athletics, and Hero the Hedgehog at this month’s event – were designed by nine-year-old Ellie, from the West Midlands, who beat 4,000 other characters submitted for a Blue Peter competition.

Coaching advice was only a small part of the contribution made to the recent IAAF World Championships in London by the official mascot, Hero the Hedgehog, who has set the bar for
Coaching advice was only a small part of the contribution made to the recent IAAF World Championships in London by the official mascot, Hero the Hedgehog, who has set the bar for "engagement" at an all-time high ©Getty Images

And both proved enormously successful.

"Bees are really important because they make the world go around and hedgehogs are determined and brave," Ellie told the Birmingham Mail. "I chose Whizbee and Hero because they are endangered species and are survivors."

Judging by Hero’s predilection for doing the splits over the water jump barrier on the 3,000 metres steeplechase course, his lineage appeared more endangered than that of your average hedgehog.

With flowing locks oddly reminiscent of Slade's Noddy Holder, a face fit for mischief and big pink running shoes, Hero was clearly designed for fun and games. And such was the genius of the person inside the suit that his slapstick provided an endearing sideshow to much of the action in what was perhaps the most unpredictable IAAF World Championships yet staged.

Over the course of the 10 days of competition, Hero displayed a dizzying range of winning characteristics.

Hero’s daily arrival on the infield at the invitation of the Olympic Stadium's roving MC, the former European and Commonwealth 400m champion Iwan Thomas, carried the threat of unpredictable violence, bringing to mind the crazed assaults visited upon Inspector Clouseau by his Chinese manservant Cato.

Thomas, whose jacket seams must surely have paid a heavy price for this regular mauling, proved the most sporting of victims.

The water jump stunt was perhaps the most obviously painful example of physical slapstick that also extended to water-sliding on a giant pink donut or executing extravagant forward somersaults down the arena’s concrete steps, eliciting nervous advice from the commentary box that such efforts should on no account be tried at home.

There was wit too, as evidenced by strange messages brandished and displayed as runners circled around him.  Example: "Always give 100 per cent except when giving blood".


Hero makes one of his habitual violent moves during the IAAF World Championships in London on infield MC Iwan Thomas, playing Cato to the former athlete's Inspector Clouseau....©Getty Images
Hero makes one of his habitual violent moves during the IAAF World Championships in London on infield MC Iwan Thomas, playing Cato to the former athlete's Inspector Clouseau....©Getty Images

Hero pushed the envelope at times – notably when he slammed himself into the centre of the victorious British men’s 4x100m team as they kneeled in front of the digital scoreboard. Questionable; but not in the least dull.

There was also a childlike playfulness which saw Hero launching plastic ducks on the surface of the water jump, or setting to work with a bucket and spade in the sand of the long jump landing pit, accompanied by a little helper from the stands.

We’ve heard a lot in recent years of sport’s need to "engage" with its audience - and in particular with its younger audience.

Often I find the word evokes a feeling of desperation, a sense of the sports concerned grabbing at "the youth" with a corporate fixed grin.

But Hero was engagement personified.

If mascots had world rankings in the manner of athletes, this latest London 2017 version would surely be on top.

One thing is certain - Hero has raised the bar for whoever or whatever turns out to be the Tokyo 2020 engager-in-chief…