Olympic footballs: Proudly made in Sialkot

Published: July 23, 2012

Behind these soccer gems is the sweat and blood of hard-working rural women of Sialkot, Pakistan – an effort concealed in disguise, under a dangerous quilt of consumerism. PHOTO: AFP

Throughout the history of football world cups and other major FIFA events, the world has seen one brand deliver the most astounding soccer balls, carved to perfection and tested in adverse conditions to exceed all FIFA standards for an ‘Official Match Ball’.

Yes, we’re talking about the German brand, Adidas.

But what lies behind the Adidas logo on these soccer gems is the sweat and blood of hard-working rural women, belonging to the city of Sialkot, Pakistan – an effort concealed in disguise, under a dangerous quilt of consumerism.

Till the advent of the year 2000, Pakistan was making 75% of all the soccer balls consumed by this entire planet, making it by far, the greatest supplier of footballs in the world, marks a report by the US government. Though the market share has dropped considerably in the past decade and Pakistan’s supply share into the world market has dropped down to around 40%, its unmatched hand-stitching quality in the world keeps winning Pakistani balls a place in all major FIFA tournaments, despite the presence of heavy competitors such as China, India and Thailand.

So China may be producing more soccer balls annually through machines, it all comes down to quality over quantity, when Pakistani hand-stitched balls and Chinese machine-made balls come head to head for the big FIFA selection process.

It was in the FIFA World Cup 2010 that the Pakistani soccer ball didn’t win a place in the grand tournament for the first time in a long time, and instead, the machine-made Chinese ball, Jabulani was selected over the hand-made Pakistani predecessor, Teamgeist.

But as the tournament progressed, the Chinese Jabulani came under heavy criticism for its inaccuracy and difficulty to control and dribble, with hate pouring in from almost all the greatest boots in the game. All this forced Adidas to return to its most acclaimed soccer ball variation line ever – The Tango, bearing the ‘Made in Pakistan’ tag. So it’s been made public, the Adidas Albert is the official game ball for London 2012 Olympics, coming hand-stitched straight from the soccer-production capital of the world, Sialkot.

Tom Cleverley, the Manchester United player who unveiled the ball at City of Coventry Stadium speaks about Albert,

 ”The Albert certainly has a unique name and striking identity. It is like no other ball I’ve seen before and it is going to really stand out on the pitch. The ball looks youthful and that is what London 2012 is meant to be about.”

The Adidas Albert sports a sequence of triangular panels, thermally bonded together for a highly reliable trajectory in flight. A woven carcass and a novel bladder beneath the outer surface of the ball, give Albert increased air retention and minimal water uptake. To enhance the ball control, each panel is covered with a grip texture, supporting boot to ball contact. The extra striking colours on the ball are in line with the London 2012 Olympics colour palette.

The Albert is also available for public purchase as part of the merchandise on the official London 2012 Olympics online store, for a sum of £70, where clicking on the ‘Details’ tab unveils the ‘country of manufacture’ being Pakistan.

Good job Pakistan!

Read more by Farrukh here, or follow him on Twitter @fariZafar

Farrukh Zafar

Farrukh Zafar

The founder of Gagism.com, who also authors FarrukhUNPLUGGED.com in his spare time.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://ekorner.com/ Mohsin

    More people should cover stories like this, you wont see this highlighted on cnn or bbc. Well done Tribune and Farrukh.Recommend

  • Sane

    Many years ago a documentary was shown on Pakistan Television named ‘A ball named Tango’. I hope many remember about this. This was about the footballs made in Pakistan and used in International tournament. Probably that had some relevance to Pakistan made footballs used in FIFA world cup.Recommend

  • http://www.tanzeel.wordpress.com Tanzeel

    Good write up on Sialkot after the shameful public beating and murder of two boys in this unfortunate city. Media must highlight whatever the positive aspects of this city are.Recommend

  • Voice of Reason

    ‘The Albert’ meets and exceeds all FIFA Approved Standards for an Official Match Ball making it the most tested ball adidas has ever produced.

    Primary material: 70% Polyurathane/30% Polyester
    Country of manufacture: PakistanRecommend

  • ali

    GREAT JOB….Good luck for future!!!!!!Recommend

  • Awans

    The Businessmen of Sialkot are Selfish people and the reason is that they are not able to make a Single International Football Stadium for Sialkotis and they were never able to start a club scene of football in Sialkot and in Pakistan and they are not investing a Penny in Sports here. The Sialkot Sportwear Businessmen should concentrate on local demand as well rather than just focusing on Exports and should invest in Sports Infrastructure in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Small example of our capabilities if left to the individual without government meddling. Well done.Recommend

  • Huma

    chalo! @Awans ko idhar bhi koi negative cheez kehnay ko mil gaiee!Recommend

  • Awans

    @Huma: Yaar aik to Reality hamain Negative hi lagti hai……….Anyway next time i will try to change my Pessimistic attitude.Recommend

  • tj

    but smwhow they have always denied any link ups with pakistan.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    Now thats my Pakistan … Zindabaad !!!Recommend

  • Talib

    What evidence is there to support your claims? Throughout your article you claimed that Pakistan focuses on hand-stitched balls. Do you know the ‘Tango 12′ is thermally bonded? Last time I checked, such balls are machine made.

    Pakistani people have skill, but for the love of God, stop ridiculing modern technology.Recommend

  • Yasir Raja

    Nice Work Proud of it… !!Recommend

  • Vaquas Alvi

    in this time of despair…something to cheer about…Pakistan zindabad…Recommend

  • muntazir

    Its called football, not soccer. Its called soccer only in America. For real football fans the word ‘soccer’ is offensive I suggest an edit. Thank you.Recommend

  • Haider

    @Awans:
    the businessmen of Sialkot have spent their money building up the Asia’s biggest (area wise) international airport without a single penny from government, they have spent their money building up road extended roads for easy transportation.
    Not just for themselves but for everyone who sheds his/her sweat and blood in making a football.
    and in fact factories (bigger ones) have the most efficient employee management systems, just for their people..
    peace.Recommend

  • Truth Bites

    @Talib : thermally bonded or not, this ball is Made in Pakistan! and yes Pakistan is leader in hand woven footballs! though we need to check what thermally bonded means here about the process, as it would have been really hard to win this contract by Pakistani company if it was only machine made process, at which China is being the leader.Recommend

  • Maria

    @Tanzeel: Crime and murder in Sialkot is an isolated incident unlike other cities in the world. That too was a case of enmity between groups. Sialkot is known throughout the world as a major centre of export and an isolated crime has not put a dent in that. You can think about a murder of 2 boys a year ago but think about how many murders go on daily in New York City, Chicago or even Karachi for that matter. I would choose Sialkot any day for safety over any of these places.Recommend

  • dude108

    kasabs are also made around this area.Recommend

  • Awais

    I sort of studied this in Geography in Year 9. About the losers and winners of the football and sports trade. Footballs made for Mitre and other companies by young kids in Sialkot and they get paid an insanely tight salary. Then sold around the world to football clubs and teams and the companies make their profit. I think its same with clothing, textiles, electronics and whatnot.Recommend

  • hasan

    and still we would get these for thousands of rupees or not even be made available here in Pakistan!Recommend

  • http://www.MadeinChinaHappyHour.com Golden Networking

    With many Americans still unemployed, many think the U.S. Olympic Committee should have off-shored American jobs make uniforms for American athletes in China. What do you think? Should we burn or wear the uniforms made in China? Join the debate next Tuesday 24 in New York City: http://bit.ly/LYNXPMRecommend

  • http://ammarfaruki.blogspot.com/ Ammar Faruki

    To all asking the source of the news, here’s the link to official website store. http://goo.gl/DHEFp
    Go to ‘Details’ tab and see Country of manufacture. We need to promote such posts and the positive face – Nice work, Farrukh.Recommend

  • http://mylandPakistan.com Rai M Azlan

    Good Job done Farri my friend. high 5Recommend

  • SM

    Was the “blood of hard-working rural women, belonging to the city of Sialkot” actually shed??
    What does “an effort concealed in disguise, under a dangerous quilt of consumerism.” actually mean?!
    This is a fantastic piece excluding this dramatic paragraph. Why not write about the fact women are sewing these balls, or point out how much they are paid, but blood? dangerous quilts of consumerism without explanation? Where’s the editor??Recommend

  • Abdullah Azkia

    I wish that some day businessmen of our country grow up and start a company of their own and get in competition with ADIDAS… when we can make quality footballs, then why are we letting others to mark their logos ??Recommend

  • Yasir Mehmood

    Sialkot has a big hand in majority of Pakistani exports but its sad that the city is one of the worst affected by load shedding by the federal government, although it is a city with one of the highest rates of bill recovery unlike cities outside punjab.Recommend

  • Pareshaan kaarkun

    @Talib: i wish you had checked the details in there :/Recommend

  • Parvez

    @dude108: ……………and so are the likes of Allama Mohammad Iqbal.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/natashasuleman Natasha Suleman

    Muntazir. GLAD to read your comment.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/natashasuleman Natasha Suleman

    dude108

    //kasabs are also made around this area.//

    Frustration.

    Maria,

    Well-said.

    Awans,

    Youre being unfair. Recommend

  • FZ

    @Talib:
    The last paragraph contains the link to the official London 2012 Olympics store. Check under the ‘Details’ tab, the ‘Country of manufacture:’. There’s Pakistan for you.

    As for the hand-stitched/machine-made debate, yes the Pakistani balls are partially bonded through machines but the stitching part remains with the human hand, that’s what places the Pakistani London 2012 Olympics ball at a price of 70 Pounds (85 now as the event is nearing) while the Chinese version of the same ball at just 15 Pounds – all those extra bucks for the hand-made effort.

    No one’s ‘ridiculing modern technology’; the modern technology itself got ridiculed in the last world cup when every major player crticised Jabulani as an inaccurate ball – that can be found in this article too.

    Thanks for the crticism. Much appreciated.Recommend

  • FZ

    @SM:
    Thanks for the acclaim.
    Let me explain the following. Hate to take poetic turns during my writings:

    “blood of hard-working rural women, belonging to the city of Sialkot”
    They say, sweat is made out of blood. That’s what I meant.
    “an effort concealed in disguise, under a dangerous quilt of consumerism.”
    It took me a whole day to find out that the origin of the ball is Pakistani. This is the first time Adidas is hiding it this way. All these women who stitch these balls in Sialkot are paid peanuts while Adidas takes away all the profits and name. So that’s why consumerism. It’s ofcourse a positive thing to see women work and produce goods of the highest qulaity but it’s not about women here. It’s about the effort-to-pay ratio. I’d write the same if it were ‘men’ too. Gets exciting when high-profile journos like you pull my leg. Hope it’s even now. :)
    Recommend

  • FootballPakistan.Com

    Footballs from Sialkot are not used in official FIFA/UEFA tournament matches because of child labour concerns against Pakistan. Instead those balls are used for team practice and training.Recommend

  • Badar Muneer

    2 years back, as an internee at ministry of commerce, I along with two internees went to sialkot city for the survey. Our paper title is “issues and revival of sports industry in Pakistan” whereby we visited more than small and medium enterprises. we had interviews with the manufacturers and also see working while working. Manufactures blame various factors such as energy shortfalls, goverments inconsistent policies, emergence of competitors, lack of marketing of our products, lack of upgradation in machinery, lack of innovations, traditional means of producing balls etc.Recommend

  • Huria

    mogambo khush hua!Recommend

  • APZ

    Seems like many either are unaware or don’t know the true realities of how children are exploited by enslaving them to stitch these footballs we are all so proud of. I’m surprised the Olympic officials have not spoken up and have chosen to go with PK footballs. While many may say child labor in football making was banned, unfortunately the horrid practice is alive and well, and many of the factories run out of private homes to avoid the laws. Jus t ask UNICEF or Human Rights Watch. We should be ashamed, not proud.

    Here is a recent article from Reuters (Feb 2012):
    http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/02/07/pakistan-childlabour-idINDEE81608820120207

    “The plight of child labourers in Pakistan came under international scrutiny when it was discovered that children were hand-stitching soccer balls in the town of Sialkot.

    Foreign sports equipment companies are wary of any hint of association with child exploitation. One stopped orders in 2006 from a Pakistan-based supplier of hand-stitched soccer balls, saying the factory had failed to correct labour compliance violations.

    But the outcry hasn’t helped much.

    “The problem is that the whole industry has moved into private homes, which has made it a bit difficult to monitor if child labour is being used,” said Hussain Naqi, the national co-ordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.”….Recommend

  • siddra

    Olympics and Footballs are synonymous in my opinion because they are mostly used together. a good write by you. its really an honor for us (Pakistanis) that our products are so famous outside Pakistan. for this particular product which is football the credit goes to Sialkot. Sialkot you make us proud!Recommend

  • http://log.umalik.com Usman Malik

    @Awans: Have you actually seen how these so-called SELFISH BUSINESSMEN of SIALKOT have changed the whole face of Sialkot by their SELFLESS donations and continuous support with Human Resources and Expertise!

    Am tired of these Pakistani knee-jerk reactionaries. If you are so much troubled by this why don’t you start a Stadium yourself in Sialkot?Recommend

  • http://www.forward.pk Hassan Khawaja

    This is to correct all, this ball is not Hand-stitched.
    It is made out of a new state of the art technology called “Thermo-bonded” by which ball panels are heat glued together in a mold to form a shape of a ball.
    Its revolutionary as it eliminates all factors of child labor and poor control rather giving an edge of balanced production and homogeneity which was not possible in hand sewn balls as stitcher’s strength varies from 1st ball of the day to the last and so is the ball quality.

    As far as role of the businessmen of the city is concerned, Sialkot’s businessmen have done a lot on their own of which I believe not more people know about. Some of the unique examples are:
    1. Sialkot international airport Limited (only airport in Pakistan made by private people for their city)
    2. Sialkot Dry-port, again a privately invested dry-port.
    3. There is an arrangement between Punjab Government and Sialkot Chamber of industries that if people of Sialkot wants to build any infrastructure then 50% of the budget will come from government and rest by businessmen of the city. Through this agreement, complete infrastructure of the city has been built road, colleges, hospitals, labs for which collection of funds from business community is made through a committed donation of 0.05% of every item that is exported out of Sialkot.
    Due to this struggle, Sialkot now has the highest literacy rate and per capita income in Pakistan.

    It is very shameful to read comments from our people who connect Child Labor with soccer ball. This attitude has caused a lot of damage to the industry (almost 400,000 families are unemployed) as brands were afraid that media will hurt their image by associating them with forced child labor. However, things have changed now as football production technologies have shifted and so is the attitude of media.
    Here are some examples on what international and national media say about the company producing this Olympic ball.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5xq77zZHSM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptrjry2A1WI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPtdGRwCtd0&feature=relatedRecommend

  • Awaz Pakistan

    Great insite on Sialkot and Olympic ball
    Thanks Hassan Khawaja
    Pakistan zindabadRecommend

  • Maria

    @Awans: When I last went to Sialkot, I was impressed by the order and cleanliness of the city which puts it ahead of most of Pakistan’s cities. You get the feeling that work and progress is taking place there. This is largely die to the efforts of the business community of Sialkot who have taken an active role in the city’s upkeep. Do you know that every item exported from Sialkot has a portion given to the city to facilitate upkeep? That alone accounts for the organized nature of Sialkot.Recommend

  • observer

    Good job Pakistan!

    Yes, Congratulations.

    I hope people realise that no one in the World, not even an American company, is conspiring against Pakistan. Hard work pays- ALWAYS.Recommend

  • OP

    I bought the official olympics hoodies here in London and was delighted to see that these adidas labelled hoodies were made in Pakistan!!Recommend

  • Abdul

    ITS FOOTBALL FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. NOT SOCCER.Recommend

  • fizzasaleh

    @siddra:
    Thnx alot siddra for sharing information it was really useful to me i wanted to buy it for my kid! this blog rocks thanx to the blog writer.Recommend

  • MAS

    Pakistan ZindabadRecommend

  • Syed Arsalan Ali

    I’ll not say more as my brothers have already said much. All I want to say for the soccer world is: “East or West, Pakistan is the Best”…!Recommend

  • Osama

    actually the replica balls sold in shops are made in Pakistan not the actual thermally bonded ones used during matches.Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Geo PAKISTAN…!! Pakistan press and Media should highlight the multitudes of positive stories we have here in Pakistan… Foreign media has spoofed our image so much. Its our duty now , to rise from the ashes.

    Proud PakistaniRecommend

  • Sajjad Francis

    Not Only the Football, Sialkot should also proud that All Best Hockey Player of the world are playing with the Hockey Sticks manufactured in Sialkot.Recommend

  • Saania

    @Tanzeel:
    thanks alot for naming this incident so explicitly for those from around the world who dont know about it. Now they can find something more wrong with the place that produces the best sports goods in the world. really people!!Recommend

  • wasif

    Sialkot Cottage industry model has made it like a Gulf state. Working community makes best family income to educate and feed their families. Business community contriputes in the development of the city and contribute generously in the welfare of the working class. I know one example of poor sick child brought in Lahore Clildren hospital from Siakot, doctor on duty precribed treatment costing Rs80000. Business community immediately provided necessary funds for his treatment. It is unfair to give knowingly or Unknowingly wrong impression that industry is involved in child labourRecommend

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