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Qatar World Cup: Dubai's Toby the penguin successfully predicts winners

The would-be heir to Paul the Octopus has so far predicted wins by Saudi Arabia, Japan and Spain
Toby the penguin contemplates his next World Cup prediction (Social media)

Few creatures have captured the imagination of the World Cup watching public in the way that Paul the Octopus did. 

Back at the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa, Paul, a common octopus residing at the Sea Life centre in the German town of Oberhausen, caused a sensation by correctly predicting the winner of all seven of Germany’s matches. 

His keepers would present him with two clear boxes containing either a mussel or an oyster. The boxes represented the teams playing and whichever one Paul went to, that was deemed his choice of winner. 

The oracle of the deep blue sea moved on from Germany’s games to predict a triumph for Spain in the final of the 2010 tournament. The Spanish duly won, with the octopus becoming a hero in Spain. 

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Paul’s fame was such that he attracted high-level scrutiny, with then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad branding the octopus a symbol of decadence and decay among his “enemies”.

Ahmadinejad even accused Paul of spreading “western propaganda and superstition”. 

Either way, the legacy of Paul, who died not long after the 2010 World Cup ended, is a long one. 

At the 2022 World Cup, two pretenders to his throne have emerged.

The first is an eight-year-old Asian small-clawed otter called Taiyo, who has become a hero in Japan after predicting the team’s 2-1 victory over Germany.

The second is from the Middle East. Toby is a gentoo penguin who lives in Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort housed inside one of the largest shopping malls in the world. 

On Tuesday, Toby, aged 12, predicted one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history: Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 triumph over the mighty Argentina. 

Rather than lie back and eat bucketloads of fish in celebration, Toby, described by his handler Ahmed as the “smartest of all” the penguins in his care, went back to work, predicting Japan’s defeat of Germany.

After that, the gentoo penguin, whose predators in the wild would include leopard seals, sea lions and orcas, kept going with a spot-on forecasting of Spain’s win over Costa Rica.

Not all of Toby’s predictions have proved correct, but his success rate is high, say sources close to the Antarctic bird. 

“He is very curious and always observed things around him,” his handler told the press. “Of course, his attention span is short, but he is very observant.” 

Toby has lived in Ski Dubai for three years and is part of a penguin breeding programme housed there. The shopping mall skiing resort was the brainchild of Emirati businessman Majid al-Futtaim, who died in 2021. 

The 22,500 square metre winter wonderland is kept at a temperature of between -1C and 2C. As the Dubai-based academic Monica Marks put it: “don’t think about Ski Dubai’s environmental impacts too hard”. 

In joining Paul in the ranks of great World Cup divines, Toby now sits in the pantheon of internationally lauded animals, including Simon the cat, who survived a cannon attack; Wojtek the soldier bear, who drank alcohol, ate cigarettes and was drafted into the Polish army; and Tama the cat, who was the station master of a Japanese railway station.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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