By Will Webster
Who could have foreseen what the late Paul the Octopus started when he began picking the winning teams at the 2010 World Cup? Presumably he could have, he was clairvoyant. But he may have struggled to predict the psychic circus that has appeared in the last week before the opening of the EURO2012 championship: Fred the ferret, an elephant called Chitta and Kiev’s very own Funtik the pig.
Animals predicting the outcomes of sporting events are all part of various big competitions now, Sonny Wool the sheep had a good run during the rugby world cup in 2011, so it’s easy to take it all with a pinch of salt (we’ll talk about local eating habits later.) However, using animals to predict the future goes back to biblical times, doves landing on the arc gave Noah a hint of better times.
Sitting in Moscow, my first view of Funtik was Gleb’s picture of a rabid and vaguely scary looking beast. Fred the Ferret from Kharkiv has a much more furry and cheeky appeal, so why did Kiev go for a pig?
I talked to Reuters photographer in Kiev Anatolii Stepanov who has spent the last couple of days getting to know Funtik.
Anatolii’s first impression started at the back, he remarked how well equipped Funtik is in the reproductive area. Whilst this might seem an odd observation, there is a reason. As visiting fans are now probably coming to realize, Ukraine, and other regions in this part of the world, really enjoy their “salo”, basically a lump of pork fat, on black bread, usually accompanied by some strong alcohol. The production of good salo is a highly esteemed skill. One prerequisite is that the animal be castrated; those lucky fully intact pigs don’t make such good eating. It’s good to know that Funtik will not be so quickly dealt with if he starts getting it wrong.
Safe there, but is he really a soothsayer? “He goes for the food nearest to him” Anatolii noted, which may mean he will come unstuck at some point if his handler doesn’t get the bowls of puffed sweet corn in the right position. Day one gave Funtik a clean sheet, he successfully snaffled the food offered to him from the Russia bowl first, predicting his Slavic neighbours’ 4-1 victory. Intriguingly he took food from both bowls with Polish and Greek flags, signifying the forthcoming equal result. That’s something that Paul the Octopus couldn’t do.
The name Funtik by the way relates to a measure of weight, the funt, the same as the UK pound. And if you were to find yourself having a conversation with him don’t forget that Ukrainian pigs don’t oink-oink, they khru-khru.
How would that conversation go – what of his personality?
“Yes, I feel a little sorry for him” Anatolii said, “he seemed stressed”. He is living in a cage behind a public toilet in the fan zone, with a constant stream of visitors. Actually the toilet provides the necessary sanitary conditions to keep Funtik squeaky clean, so this is good for him, and there’s no chance of accusing this pig of being a filthy animal. And he is indeed one charming pig, that was Anatolii’s second observation. A little girl came up to him, fed him an apple and gave him a pat on the snout, both of them seemed very happy to have met each other. In the run up to the competition there were worries of outbursts of aggression from the host nations’ fans. Despite the frothy mouth this little piggy had none.