Public Uproar Forces Olympic Committee to Scrap Bamba Mascot After Just One Day

Strong opposition to the selection of a commercial mascot for Israel's Olympic team.

The Olympic Committee of Israel yesterday reversed its decision to make the Bamba baby the country's Olympic mascot, just one day after announcing the choice.

The reversal was sparked by strong public opposition to the selection of a commercial mascot for the 2012 Olympic team. The heads of the Olympic Committee admitted that this opposition surprised them.

The Olympic Committee announced on Monday that the Bamba baby would accompany the athletes to London in July. Food manufacturer Osem, the maker of the popular peanut-based Bamba snack, was to pay the committee an undisclosed sum for the privilege of representing the team.

But yesterday, committee members were forced to answer tough questions from the media, while the public flooded Facebook pages connected to Osem and the Olympic Committee with criticism. A number of organizations also came out against the choice, including the leaders of last summer's cottage cheese boycotts. And members of the Olympic team were uncomfortable with the choice as well.

"That is what will represent us?" demanded one sportsman on the team. "A baby crapping? It was impossible to find anything more appropriate?"

The flustered committee quickly backtracked.

"After listening to public reaction, Osem and the Olympic Committee decided to forgo the commitments in the agreement," said the committee's announcement. "But in order to preserve the sporting spirit and aid the team, Osem decided to give the Olympic Committee the amount agreed to as a donation, with the goal of advancing Olympic sports in Israel."

Osem confirmed that it would donate the amount it had originally agreed to pay in exchange for sponsorship.

On Monday, a committee official rebuffed criticism of the new mascot's commercial nature, saying, "Osem sells 12 million bags of Bamba every month. It's amazing exposure for the team."

And earlier yesterday, the committee continued to insist it was standing firm. "We didn't think there would be so much noise," said its secretary general, Efraim Zinger. "But after we explained the reasons, the criticism died down."

Several hours later, however, the committee reversed itself.

Talks between Osem and the Olympic Committee started after the Tel Aviv District Court ordered the committee to stop using its first choice of mascot, Shpitzik the prickly pear. Educational Television had sued, claiming Shpitzik resembled Kishkashta, the prickly pear star of its popular "Mah Pitom" program. The court agreed. It ordered the committee to stop using Shpitzik and pay Educational Television NIS 50,000 in court costs.

"Shpitzik brought us to Osem," said Olympic Committee President Zvi Varshaviak. "In the wake of that case, several commercial bodies approached us and proposed that the mascot be tied to their products. We set up a committee that examined the matter, and the offers, and the [Olympic] Committee's management decided on Osem."

Last year, the committee had asked the public to choose the team mascot, and proposed five candidates for the honor. But the public picked Shpitzik the prickly pear - and after the committee unveiled the new mascot in December, Educational Television sued.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat also criticized the decision to adopt the Osem mascot, though she is not officially involved and has no authority over the Olympic Committee, which is an autonomous body connected to the International Olympic Committee. "The public uproar shows that public opinion is not comfortable with the choice of a commercial brand as a mascot for the Israeli team," she said. She advised the committee to listen to the public and reconsider its decision - which it eventually did.