In the absence of a team of their own to support, Chinese soccer fans are rallying behind this year’s FIFA World Cup mascot instead. Held in Doha, Qatar, this World Cup’s official mascot is La’eeb, a cutesy keffiyeh-inspired figure whose name means ‘super-skilled player’ in Arabic.
A larger-than-life La’eeb at the World Cup opening ceremony. Image via @FIFAWorldCup/Twitter
On the Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, guides to making-your-own La’eeb are blowing up. Other mascot-related posts see fans and pets dressed in keffiyehs, which are traditional headdresses worn by men in arid regions.
A mini La’eeb made from tissue paper. Image via Xiaohongshu
One search in particular, ‘The World Cup mascot has become a tissue-killer,’ referring to the tissues needed to DIY the ghost-like La’eeb, has almost 8 million views.
The Chinese internet has also given the mascot nicknames: ‘dumpling wrapper’ (饺子皮) and ‘wonton wrapper’ (馄饨皮).
A dog dressed up as the World Cup mascot. Image via Xiaohongshu
One Weibo user called La’eeb “the best-looking and cutest” World Cup mascot ever. Other netizens have praised its simple, localized design.
Chinese fans have also compared La’eeb to a Qatari prince who made waves on the internet for his dramatic facial expressions during Sunday’s game between Qatar and Ecuador.
A meme comparing a Qatari prince to La’eeb. Image via Weibo
La’eeb is not only popular for its cuteness factor, though. Chinese media outlets have emphasized the fact that much of the mascot-related merchandise, including hats, figurines, and plush dolls, is being manufactured in the Chinese province of Guangdong.
However, the mascot has not escaped the controversy swirling around this year’s World Cup, stemming from Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, hazardous use of migrant labor, and gender inequality issues.
One Weibo user said, “I don’t know where the cuteness of the mascot comes from. I feel sick when I think of the oppression of women [in Qatar].”
Soccer is an exceedingly popular sport to watch in China. According to Ispo Sports, as many as 700 million Chinese people are interested in soccer, and The China Project has named it one of the country’s four most popular sports.
However, the country has only made it to the World Cup once in the event’s entire history, in 2002. In March of this year, China’s men’s soccer team lost in the third round of World Cup qualifiers.
Cover image via Xiaohongshu