A bright spot: Football industry in Pakistan

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Sardar Muhammad Khattak

PAKISTAN has the unique honor of supplying footballs for use in the Soccer World Cup of 2014 and the recently-concluded Football World Cup 2018 held in Russia and not having a team in the much loved and adored tournament of world soccer. The latest football manufactured by Pakistan came to be known as Telstar 18, which was manufactured by Forward Sports Company, a renowned company of the city of Sialkot famous world over for production of sports goods. This time Forward Sports was entrusted with the task of making the footballs for the big summer tournament.

The company is contracting-manufactures of global sports apparel giant Adidas for which it has made the footballs for the FIFA World Cup 2018. Though it is not confirmed how many footballs Adidas had ordered for the World Cup but the company is approximately making around 700,000 per month.

When and how Sialkot got famous for the soccer balls is itself very interesting. The history of soccer ball production is traced back to British colonial era of the region. The Britons who were very fond of football used to order their stock from Britain and at times they would get impatient with the waiting time for shipment of footballs to arrive by sea. It is said that in 1886 a British sergeant asked a Sialkoti saddle maker to repair his punctured ball and impressed with his skills he placed order with him for a batch of football. Since then the city is producing major share of footballs for the game, players and lovers.

Traditionally the footballs were hand stitched but so perfect were the stitching and craftsman skills of the workers that for the first time in 1982 the city of Sialkot got the exceptional honor of a contract for manufacturing footballs for the FIFA World Cup 1982 which was hosted by Spain. The footballs manufactured by Pakistan for the 1982 football World Cup was an improved version of Adidas Tango Ball, which was first introduced for the FIFA Football World Cup 1978. The 1982 World Cup ball was an improved version of the leather ball which had introduced for the first time rubber inlaid over the seams meant for preventing water from seeping in through. Thus it became the first water resistant ball for a World Cup. This was much needed requirement as otherwise the ball would get heavier due to seepage of water through the seams of the ball. But the rubber used for preventing the water entry would get worn due to normal kicking and needed to be replaced during the game. It proved to be the last genuine leather World Cup football.

The fame of suppliers of world-class footballs continued to pay off for quite some time. It may be mentioned here that Sialkot not only produces footballs but almost all kinds of sports goods including cricket bats, balls and other accessories, lawn tennis, table tennis balls, various types of rackets of tennis, squash and badminton and other sports goods.

All the major giant international sports brands like Adidas, Nike, Puma, Select, Lotto, Umbro, Wilsons etc. are sourcing their supply of footballs from this export-oriented city and hub of sports goods production. Most of the sports goods are exported to foreign countries and a reasonable amount of foreign exchange is earned in addition to provision of jobs to thousands of workers in the country.

The current company of M/S Forward Sports got the first order for itself and Pakistan in 1982 for making the World Cup footballs in 1982, however they had to wait for 32 years for the second order from Adidas for supplying footballs for the FIFA World Cup 2014. The FIFA Football World Cup 2014 was hosted by Brazil and the football made for that cup was named Brazuca, which means the Brazilian or Brazilian way of life. Brazuca was a breakthrough innovation featuring a revolutionary 6-panel design created for every player on the field. The ball featured six panels alongside a unique surface that would provide improved grip, touch, stability and aerodynamics on the field.

The supply of footballs for the FIFA World Cup 2018 is what has brought the football making industry of Pakistan back to limelight. The new Telstar 18 football used in the World Cup 2018 is the improved state-of-the-art football. The use of technology in the football manufacturing has increased and the demand of the world supplier has also become reflective of the tech savvy complications required for making football but the sports industry of Sialkot has not disappointed its client.

Football is played with fervor in Saudi Arabia but without doubt it has become the most popular sport in the country. The participation of the Saudi Arabia football team in the FIFA World Cup 2018 has increased the craze for this game in the Kingdom. Pakistan is ready for fulfilling the quality football needs for FIFA World Cups and of the brotherly people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. — SG


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