"The Return of the Leopard" will be the motto of the VTB United Basketball League's playoffs. All the matches this season will be accompanied by an awareness raising campaign to preserve the Far Eastern leopards, Sergei Ivanov, the league's Honorary President, Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Far Eastern Leopards autonomous non-profit organisation, said at a 14 April news conference ahead of the crucial matches of the season.
European basketball stars will come out on court wearing special uniforms, and they will also appear in social ads calling attention to the leopard issue. Special programmes will await spectators: basketball fans will learn many interesting facts about the world's rarest felines and get acquainted with the amazing nature of the Russian Far East, which is home to the spotted wild cats. Every spectator will have a chance to win a leopard souvenir.
"All this is being done so that fans and people in general realise that we have unique animals — the Far Eastern leopards… We have chosen one leopard and will hold a leopard naming contest among fans. Incidentally, a leopard can leap as far as 3 metres, which means that it can easily jump into a basketball hoop," Sergei Ivanov said.
A strong five-year-old male leopard, Leo 29M, will become the VTB League's mascot. On 1 May, online voting will start on social networks. Anyone can suggest a name for the leopard by placing it after the hashtag #LEO29. The mascot will receive the name that will be mentioned the most.