A proposal to change the nickname of Benin’s men’s national team from the Squirrels to the Cheetahs is awaiting government approval in the West African country.
Mathurin de Chacus announced the plan after he was re-elected unopposed for a second term as president of the Benin Football Federation (FBF) over the weekend.
Les Ecureuils, which translates into English as The Squirrels, was coined in the 1960s – apparently to reflect a small nation aiming to climb high.
But De Chacus, a Fifa council member, says the FBF board decided to pick a more evocative name in Guepards (Cheetahs) to reflect the team’s ambitions.
The FBF is confident that sports minister Oswald Homeky will gain the government’s approval before the country’s 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda in March next year.
“From this day on, there will be no more squirrels in Benin at the football level. From now, our footballers will be called cheetahs,” De Chacus declared.
Benin, ranked 91st in the world, have never qualified for the World Cup and have only played at the Nations Cup finals four times; in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2019.
Squirrels survived previous attempts
It is not the first time Benin have looked to change the team’s nickname for something that will strike fear into the heart of their opponents.
A similar move was mooted in 2008 but was aborted, while another attempt to ditch the Squirrels was launched via an online survey in October 2018.
Benin international Steve Mounie, then playing for Huddersfield Town, backed the country’s plan by offering his own suggestion of the Pythons.
The Squirrels reached a maiden Nations Cup quarter-final on their last tournament appearance in 2019 after a shock win on penalties over Morocco, but failed to qualify for this year’s finals in Cameroon.
Benin are bottom of Group L in the race to qualify for the delayed 2023 Nations Cup following defeats by Senegal and Mozambique in June.