Commonwealth Games: Pause for thought on less-than-cool cat mascot

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ALL THE potted plants were on the patio, prudently watered. Three bags of quick-setting cement - undeployed after 18 months, but, according to my wife, indispensable - had been shifted to a more sensible place. Numerous boxes of children's drawings and incomplete jigsaw puzzles had been relocated for sorting. Trouble waiting to happen.

But never mind, the sun lounge was returning to us from its years of clutter. While the contents of the room were being redistributed, I heard a bang. Shards of corrugated plastic, moss, mud and dead woodlice lay scattered over the floor. Grey sky was visible through a jagged hole in the sunlounge roof.

As I looked to see what might have dropped in - an aircraft engine, perhaps? - the plumper of our two cats picked her way disdainfully through the wreckage.

She didn't walk out, she swaggered out. And I thought "How cool is that cat?" Let's put it this way. She was the acme of everything the organisers of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester have striven for in creating their recently unveiled mascot. Who, for those of you who may not yet know, is Kit the Kool Kat.

The revelation of Manchester's mascot came just after noon on a swelteringly hot day at last month's Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. Air conditioning in the 2002 Games hospitality chalet - effectively a sectioned marquee - was clearly unequal to the task of preventing a tightly packed gathering of journalists, drawn by the promise of a press announcement and a fish- and-chip lunch, from overheating. Sweat beads rolled down the back.

Eventually, the 2002 Games chief executive spoke. After the usual pledges and perorations, the man behind the microphone broke off for the main business of the day; introducing the mystery guest.

In bounded Kit, tipping his head from side to side, waving indiscriminately. Contempt would probably have been too strong a word for the collective emotion this turn of events evoked among the gathered scribes. Disbelief is a fairer word, dismay is another appropriate reaction.

This figure, now engaged in a lumbering high-five ritual with the desperately smiling chief executive, was the embodiment of the Manchester Games. According to the official blurb.

"He's a bit of an `alley cat' in a most endearing way," we read. "Kit is also an anti-hero. He loves sport but doesn't show it and doesn't want to admit that he's really a little bit envious of sports heroes." Pardon me? A series of presentations from leading artists and designers to journalists and business people from Manchester and London appeared to have produced a sporting figure with a large ready-made chip on his shoulder.

Or was this, perhaps, a previously unrecognised characteristic in sporting mascots, forever doomed to be on the fringes of any significant action? Maybe World Cup Willie harboured secret regrets about being released by Arsenal as a cub. Maybe Cobi, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic mascot, seethed with discontent over the level of appearance money now on offer to top athletes.

As Kit stood, waving and bobbing, nothing else happened. What was to be done? You could hardly interview him on the Manchester infrastructure: "What measures have been taken in the area of pet hygiene?" And, as no one wanted to wave back at him, or buy him, he was without any recognisable use.

After an excruciating pause, our friendly, dynamic and mischievous as well as being fun and vibrant friend disappeared into a side room and removed his head - revealing a red-faced young woman with sweat-matted hair. Kool she wasn't.

But as Kit bounds on towards 2002, and a presumed wealth of marketing opportunities, the question of why Manchester should represent itself through a part cat, part lion remains unanswered.

I can't help thinking they've missed a couple of obvious opportunities. The requisite appeal to the young, I feel, could be better served by using a more humanoid figure, clad perhaps in a fur-lined parka and clasping its hands behind its back. Alternatively, one hand may be represented gesturing forward with an extended finger.

But for universal appeal, what beats this? A figure in a red shirt and white circular collar, with long strands of thinning fair hair scraped across the top of his scalp in an unsuccessful effort to disguise baldness. Obvious, isn't it?