by Janine Erasmus

Young football fans may soon see their logo adorning the home page of Google South Africa. (Image: Doodle4Google)
Google South Africa is getting in on the 2010 Fifa World Cup action by inviting local school children to enter their football-themed Google logo into an international Doodle4Google competition and stand a chance not only to win enticing prizes, but to have their entry displayed on the search engine’s home page.

Based on the original Doodle4Google competition of 2005 in the UK, the new edition carries the theme of “I love football”.

With the World Cup just weeks away, children between the ages of four and 17 from 18 countries will stretch their creative muscles to design a logo that shows how sport, and football in particular, transcends borders and cultures and brings people together.

Participating African countries include Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. They are up against youngsters from Australia, Czech Republic, the UK, US, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Past winners may enter, but they aren’t eligible to win.

Former head of Google South Africa Stephen Newton expressed his excitement about the upcoming football tournament that will inspire hundreds of children to reach for new creative heights. “Google is about the people who use it, and this is a great opportunity for South Africans to shape the way Google looks for a day.”

Tough competition

Entries will be evaluated by a group of creative heavyweights, and assessed for creativity, artistic prowess and effective communication of the theme, while taking age into account.

Overseas, they include Google webmaster Dennis Hwang, Paige Braddock of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, Susan Brandt of Dr Seuss Enterprises, Andy Harkness of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Keith Malone of Lego, and Bob Pauley of Pixar Animation Studios.

The distinguished South African judges include irreverent cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, television personality Lebogang Mzwimbi, and Sandra Fivaz, who edits the Sunday Times ReadRight supplement.

The panel is responsible for short-listing 10 finalists. A public vote, held between 1 and 7 June via the internet and text message, will determine which of the hopefuls go through to the international round.

The winner of each national competition will take home a laptop and a framed copy of their artwork. Like the other country winners, the top South African artist will also enjoy the excitement of having his or her design displayed on Google South Africa’s home page for a full day during the World Cup.

This is potentially huge exposure for the young winner, as millions of people will access the search engine to keep up to date with the football extravaganza.

The South African winner will then go forward to battle it out with the other 17 international winners. All the national winners will appear on the competition’s website and will be subject to the same public voting process between 21 and 28 June.

The grand prize is a 10-day trip in South Africa for the winner and three other family members. The overall winning entry will dominate the global home page for the whole of 11 July, the day of the World Cup final and the culmination of years of anticipation for football fans around the world. Here it will be seen by a massive online audience.

The global runner-up will win two VIP tickets to a Premier League football game of Google’s choice, in the UK. Both prizes cover international travel costs – where necessary – as well as domestic trips and accommodation.

Children wishing to enter the South African competition don’t have to be citizens, but must at least have permanent resident status.

Only one entry per child is allowed, and the competition closes at 9am on 3 May 2010. Contestants can find all the necessary details on the South African competition website.

Young creative minds

The annual Doodle4Google competition is open only to school children, who are invited to submit their own Google doodle, based on the chosen theme. In the US, which is not participating in the “I love football” competition, the current theme is “If I could do anything, I would…”

The winning entry is chosen by a public vote, and it is then featured for 24 hours on the country-specific Google home page. Besides the UK and US, competitions have been held in a number of countries including Australia, New Zealand, China, Egypt, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, and the Netherlands.

However, this is the first time that Doodle4Google is taking place at an international level as well as national, and the first time that African countries are participating.

Google doodles are variations on the official Google logo, usually involving a clever manipulation of the letters of the search engine’s name. They are used to commemorate special events such as Valentine’s Day, the Olympics or Earth Day, the birthdays of remarkable human beings such as Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Darwin, Michael Jackson and Beethoven, or holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

Other momentous revelations, such as Nasa’s confirmation of water on the moon, have also been celebrated in a doodle.

Clicking on a Google doodle leads to a list of Google-indexed links relating to the event.

The doodle was first used in 1999 when a little stick figure was seen behind the second “o”, to celebrate the annual Burning Man art event in Nevada, which was attended by a few Google staff members that year. Since then more than 300 American and 700 international doodles have appeared on Google home pages around the world.