On the Ball
It may take a long time for the Pakistani Football team to make it to the FIFA World Cup but the country’s Brazuca ball is already a part of the world event.
The FIFA World Cup has taken the entire world by storm, taking football, the most favorite game of the people across the globe, to the level of an obsession.
Like the rest of the world, in Pakistan, there are millions of football fans who are equally enthusiastic about the game. However, the sad part is that Pakistan does not have a football team to represent it in the event. Nonetheless, it has indirectly managed to take part in this year’s World Cup with the production of Brazuca – the football used by the football players in the World Cup this year.
This time, Pakistan has produced about 70 percent of the world cup footballs. The hub of the country’s sport goods industry is Sialkot where the Brazuca has also been made. The town has been producing hand-stiched footballs for more than a century. Some major international brands like Adidas, Nike, Puma, Select, Micassa, Diadora, Wilsons, Decathlon and many get their supply of footballs from Sialkot. Currently, sports industries operating in Sialkot produce over 30,000 footballs per day and around 60 million footballs annually, meeting 85 percent of the total world demand for hand-stitched footballs. Around 60,000 highly skilled male and female workers in Sialkot are engaged in the task of making footballs.
In the past, Pakistan has made footballs for the German Bundesliga, the French League and the Champions League. Sialkot produced the Tango ball for the 1982 FIFA World Cup, and gained international recognition which further helped in the progress of the industry. However, while Pakistan was the world’s leading football manufacturer until the 1990s, it had lost almost half of its global share to China by 2006.
At this time, a serious threat also confronted the sports goods industry in the form of the thermo-molded ball. This ball is made by using technology that gives the football almost all the characteristics of a hand-stitched ball. To deal with the situation, a Sports Industries Development Centre was formed in Sialkot under the directives of the federal government. Costing more than Rs.435.637 million, the centre was set up to modernize the football industry in Pakistan.
The main reason behind setting up the SIDC was to aid the sports sector in adopting the modern technology of mechanized ‘thermo lamination balls’ through common facilities, consultative services, machinery and training. Businessmen and manufacturers associated with the
industry benefitted from the SIDC as it helped the industry in dealing with the technology of those footballs that were a threat to the hand-stitched balls.
The SIDC facilitated the making of prototype balls for the industry, provided training to skilled workers in moulding, rubber technology and mechanized thermo-laminated balls, etc. In addition, the machinery installed was fully capable of producing and testing thermo-laminated balls so as to match the standards of FIFA.
The centre also helped the industry deal with the challenges of product development by modifying the ability and competitiveness of Sialkot’s football industry in mechanized footballs. This facilitated in sustaining Pakistan’s position in the international market.
That was how Pakistan managed to bind with China as a key supplier of the official Adidas World Cup footballs after a break of 32 years. China used to export footballs for FIFA earlier but failed to keep up with the demand. Also, the players had a hard time handling the machine-made footballs exported by China. This paved the way for a Sialkot company to step in and show its efficiency.
The company acquired the contract to manufacture more than 3000 balls for the major football tournament. This way, the hand-stitched football again caught the attention of football-playing nations and clubs that preferred using them as they matched their expectations as opposed to machinemade footballs.
Brazuca, the ball that is used in the World Cup this year, features a striking new design and a new panel system. The ball’s synthetic surface is made up of six identical interlocking panels, thermally bonded to keep the moisture out.
The only way to meet FIFA’s newly introduced strict rules, concerning the roundness of the ball, is by using thermal bonded technology. The balls undergo a testing process at the factory before being considered just right to be used by the soccer players.
The balls are introduced to heat, humidity and high-intensity UV rays to assure their resistance to the harsh Brazilian sun. Besides, there are some other tests to determine if the printed designs will last the match while a test is done to determine the speed of the ball when kicked by a striker. If the ball clears these tests, it goes for mass production.
At the manufacturing end, about 1,800 workers make balls in different colors on dozens of assembly lines. They sew patches of synthetic material together and the ball is flipped inside out since stitching is done on the interior. The ball is then filled with air and, after examination, is placed in a circular machine that makes it round in an efficient manner. Workers are generally engaged in the job eight hours a day, six days a week..
Pakistan is lucky that it has been chosen by FIFA for manufacturing footballs for the World Cup.. The handstitched balls made by skilled workers in Sialkot’s sports factories show that Pakistan has participate role to play in this thrilling sport, though its team has never played in the tournament. Despite facing competition with machine-made balls from China, Pakistani manufacturers have managed to bring back the production of hand-stitched World Cup footballs to Pakistan making the country a part of the Football World Cup
A big challenge for Pakistan’s sports goods industry is to become a world leader in the manufacture of sports gear. The industry needs the necessary facilities and incentives to make this positive change in Pakistan’s image. Quality standards and professional marketing techniques must also be adopted to give the country a lead in world markets.