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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Aye­sha Ahmed The writer is a Karachi-based jour­nal­ist.

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.

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