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June 03, 2014 9:48 AM The World Cup’s Soccer Ball

By Martin Longman

Four years is a long time and I had forgotten that pretty much everyone hated the soccer ball that was used in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The vuvuzelas I did not forget. This time around there is reason to hope that the ball will fly straight. The AFP has an article on the new ball and how it is designed, tested, and manufactured.

It focuses first on the workers:

She has no idea who Lionel Messi is and her home country isn’t even playing, but Pakistani mother-of-five Gulshan Bibi can’t wait for the World Cup — because she helped make the balls.

When Brazil and Croatia kick off the tournament in Sao Paolo on June 12 there’s a good chance they’ll be using a ball made by Gulshan and her colleagues at the Forward Sports factory in Pakistan’s eastern town of Sialkot.

“I’m really looking forward to the World Cup and inshallah (God willing) we will watch the matches. The balls we make will be used and all the women who work here are very proud,” Gulshan told AFP.

Workers like Gulshan Bibi are paid a “10,000-rupee ($100) monthly salary.” Forward Sports is known for making very high-quality soccer balls, and the workers seem grateful for their jobs. But it’s easy to see why America can’t compete for this particular contract. An American working at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 makes fifty-eight bucks a day on an eight hour shift, and (assuming about 22 work days per month) they make $1,276 a month.

They start with flat white propeller-shaped pieces of polyurethane, add the Brazuca’s distinctive bright colours and glue the panels to the ball’s rubber bladder.

The seams are then treated with a special sealant and the ball is heated and compressed in a spherical clamp to give it the correct shape. The heat also activates the temperature-sensitive bonding compound that holds the ball securely together.

The whole process from flat panels to finished item takes 40 minutes — speed is crucial to prevent impurities getting into the ball — and the factory can produce up to 100 per hour.

It’s a high-tech process for Pakistan, where much of the workforce is unskilled and poorly educated — only around half the population can read and write.

“We take unskilled workers and train them — this is a job that is not available anywhere else. You have to get someone with good attitude and train them,” said Forward Sports CEO Khawaja Masood Akhtar.

Ninety percent of those working on the Brazuca were women — unusual in Pakistan, where they are largely expected to stay at home with families, but Akhtar said they were more diligent and meticulous than their male colleagues.

Even paying what we would consider slave wages, this company is helping to integrate women into the workforce. It’s something to think about as you watch the Brazuca get kicked around the pitch in this year’s World Cup.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

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