World Cup’s Ball Business –

Forty percent of the soccer balls used worldwide are produced in a small town in Pakistan, Sialkot. About 1,000 factories in the town make leather-covered orbs, and the region produces 30 million balls a year, some of them for big global brands like Adidas. For the 2018 World Cup in Russia, factories in Sialkot exported around 37 million balls.

The natural questions are how and why? Simple answer: British colonialism.

Charles Goodyear introduced the first modern soccer ball in 1855. Made from vulcanized rubber, the ball offered considerable advantages over previous options, including human skulls and stuffed pig bladders, but it was also imperfect—it bounced unexpectedly. Goodyear’s ball dominated for less than a decade, before the English Football Association published general standards that called for a perfectly spherical ball with an outer leather casing.

A British military officer stationed in Pakistan had a leather-bound ball in need of repair. “He got tired of waiting and asked a local saddle maker to fix it, and Sialkot’s infant production took off from there,” said Erik Verhugen, professor of economics at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. ” said Erik Verhugen, who has consulted with Sialkot companies on production. efficiency

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What started as a small family business soon became the main economic activity of Sialkot. “But the interesting part of the story is that Pakistanis don’t play football,” Verhugen said. “The soccer ball industry grew up essentially to serve the British colonialists, but it also served other colonies, not just in Pakistan.”

Sialkot’s largest company is Forward Sports, which makes balls for Adidas, the official licensee of FIFA World Cup balls since 1982. “Forward Sports is the biggest company in Sialkot; 3- to 4,000 people work for Forward Sports,” said Waleed Tariq, business development manager at Bola Gema, a soccer ball factory in town that produces about 160,000 balls a month for international retailers such as Decathlon and Stadium Sports. does “They make match balls, but they also make them [balls of varying sophistication] for the public.”

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Al Rihla, Qatar’s World Cup ball, is as good as it gets. Adidas said in an email that it is the fastest ball in World Cup history, and the first official match ball made with thermo bonding instead of hand stitching. It is also the first ball made with water-based ink and glue, a new standard that increases stability.

The official match balls have been produced in Pakistan and China, Adidas said, with 20 balls for each of the tournament’s 64 matches.

The official match ball will not be available at retail, but consumers can purchase Al Rihla replicas for $40 to $165, depending on the technology added.

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Tariq said, “Match balls are expensive. “These new technologies will be available, but probably for very high level matches. In our experience, the biggest challenge is that customers are not willing to pay the price.

It always comes back to money. Sialkot’s market share in the sector is declining partly because there are cheaper balls. Made in Pakistan can cost anywhere from $3 to $6, depending on the technology, but other brands are opting for less expensive machine-stitched balls made in China. Meanwhile, thermo bonding and other techniques present another type of competition. “High-end balls are no longer hand-stitched,” said Verhugen. “Pakistani producers have been squeezed from high and low ends.”

It may be a prediction for the future, but right now Al Rihla, the 14th ball designed for the World Cup, is flying high.


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