Brian's Blogs

Creature comforts at Euro 2012

With the Euro 2012 championship practically all over bar the shouting, it's maybe time to take stock of all those animal soothsayers who started popping up out of the woodwork predicting the overall winner of the series.

You may well remember that two years ago Paul the Octopus was 84% correct in his predictions during the World Cup Finals which he made by selecting a mussel from boxes bearing teams' national flags. He became an overnight sensation when he correctly predicted all of Germany's games, plus a win for Spain in the final against the Netherlands.

While he originally hailed from Weymouth, in the UK, Paul spent most of his life in the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany. It was worldwide news when he died in October 2010 – and a memorial was erected at the aquarium in his memory.

Following in his footsteps (thinks: can an octopus have footsteps - all 8 of them?) psychic animals have already become as predictable a part of international tournaments as the England team – in whatever sport – being sent home before the quarter- or semi-finals.

For this particular jamboree, we were introduced to the unimaginatively named Paulus, who was born in Germany but resides in an aquarium in Portugal; an elephant in Poland's Krakow Zoo called Citta, who picked her teams by choosing a mango placed over national flags; another elephant, based in Holland, called Nelly, who predicted Germany would beat Portugal in their opening game (she was right. They trashed the Portuguese 1-0!).

A psychic raccoon at a British zoo predicted that England would beat France in the opening match (they drew) while a psychic sea lion backed Poland to win. Ukraine, who co-hosted the tournament with Poland, had Fred the ferret living in Kharkiv and a pig called Funtik in Kiev. Two fish in Singapore predicted the result for the opening match between Poland and Greece. One of them went for a draw. How truly amazing is that!

The run down for the whole football jamboree was starting to read like half the passenger list of Noah's Ark: A pig, an octopus, a bulldog, a llama, a raccoon, a ferret, a sea lion, a reindeer, an otter, two fish, a cow, and two elephants.

One of the things that worried me, though – and I guess a whole load of other followers – was that many of these animals appeared totally biased; a little bit like the juries who vote for the annual Eurovision Song Contest that everyone in the West loves to knock. Can you believe, for instance, that a Russian reindeer named Kharuk picked the Russian team to make the semi finals (they didn't even make it to the quarters). Citta, the Polish elephant, picked Poland to beat Greece (they drew). Equally incredible, a world-famous psychic llama named Nicholas, who lives in the south of England, picked England to win the whole contest. I mean, hasn't it learned yet that England always flunk it at the past minute?

Some would argue that these creature predictions are no better than the simple act of tossing a coin. As the majority of them were predicting purely a win or lose situation, they have a one in two chance of getting that right. Multiply that all the way to the finals and the chances of successfully predicting the winner is one in 128 (or even only one in 64 if you "know" that England never get anywhere near the finals).

Of course, among the prognostication fans there always has to be a Moaning Minnie. And "sure as eggs is eggs", Germany's animal protection agency took on this mantle to complain about treating animals like they were in a circus. "It's too much; almost every dog and pig in the country is being turned into an oracle," complained Marius Tünte to the news magazine Spiegel. "They are trying to use the spectacle to achieve fame." (It may be worth mentioning here that Spiegel Online ran this story while highlighting their ten-strong oracle team's wins and losses right next to it!)

The agency reserved its biggest venom for the pet pundit at a radio station, Big FM, in Stuttgart: Ado the python. It chose which of two live rats, meant to represent the competing teams, it would gobble up. The rats are exposed to "unnecessary suffering for the sake of entertainment," the APA (or Tierschutzbund to give it its proper name) wrote on its Facebook page, encouraging its supporters to lodge their protests on the station's website. I have to say, though, that since this is the norm for feeding pythons in captivity, I'm afraid I don't personally see anything particularly wrong with this. Nature is cruel. We know this. "Are there not worse-off animals to worry about than a well-fed snake?" one commented on the agency's Facebook post, to which I agree wholeheartedly.

Die Welt had other horror stories. It claimed that hundreds of dogs had been abandoned during the championship after failing to predict the right score – while a pig that tipped Italy to beat Germany in the semifinal apparently showed up hours later in a local butcher's as pork chops… which seems a bit unfair: a clear case of shooting the messenger, I would suggest. (Would it have been any better off if it had lied a little for the sake of keeping the peace? I doubt it somehow.)

I'm left wondering if this fad will cross from West to East and whether the ever so-much-more pragmatic Chinese might ever discover in their midst a psychic panda who can predict the outcome of next year's Chinese Super League or AFC Asian Cup… Any predictions anybody?

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