MOSCOW (Reuters) - The pudgy polar bear chosen as one of the mascots for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was at the center of a copyright row Monday after the creator of the teddy bear from the 1980 Games said his ideas had been stolen.
Russians chose three mascots in a televised contest over the weekend, picking a cuddly hare, a snowboarding snow leopard and a polar bear as the faces of the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
Claims of idea theft and political motives followed the vote with the creator of the smiling brown bear cub from the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics saying the polar bear was a copy of his mascot.
“It’s exactly the same as mine: the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the smile, though it’s askew,” Viktor Chizhikov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
“I don’t like it when people steal, the author always feels it especially painfully.”
The Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee said in a statement released later Monday that the polar bear was “specifically” designed for the upcoming Winter Games in Russia.
Around 1.4 million Russians sent text messages, voted on the Internet and telephoned into a live broadcast late Saturday and when the voting was over, Sochi 2014 chief Dmitry Chernyshenko announced that the top three most popular choices would be mascots.
He said they were expected to bring in $30-40 million in licensing and copyright fees.
Chizhikov was not the only one upset by the polar bear.
Opponents facing off in parliamentary elections later this year against the ruling United Russia party made comparisons with United Russia’s polar bear symbol, according to local media reports.
The polar bear came second in the vote after the snow leopard, which got a boost from Russia’s most popular politician, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Hours before the voting, Putin said the snow leopard would be a “symbolic” choice for Sochi. The snow leopard was a “strong, powerful, fast and beautiful animal,” he told students, waving his hand in the air like a clawed paw.
President Dmitry Medvedev, widely viewed as Putin’s junior partner, hinted Monday that he felt the mascot voting was unfair, telling officials he hoped a new electronic card project he proposed would be “more fair” than the Olympic mascot vote.
Though Medvedev never openly expressed his views on his favorite mascot, the head of the upper house of parliament, Sergei Mironov, told media the Kremlin chief preferred a brown bear.
More than 24,000 entries for the mascot were received and a shortlist of 10 was created by the end of December.
A red-robed Grandfather Frost, the Russian version of Santa Claus, was disqualified just before the voting because of what the announcer said were concerns Russia could be deprived of a winter holiday symbol once the mascot became Olympic property.
Additional reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, Editing by Steve Gutterman and Ed Osmond