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She has no idea who Lionel Messi is and her country isn't even playing, but Pakistani mother-of-five Gulshan Bibi can't wait for the football World Cup. She is a stakeholder because she helped make the balls. When Brazil and Croatia kick off the tournament in Sao Paulo 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. Here’s a look at what has gone into the making of the ‘Brazuca’, the official match ball for this edition of the world’s greatest football tournament.
(Pictures: AFP PHOTO)
Pakistani workers inspect new balls at the factory in Sialkot. For Gulshan and her colleagues this is a moment of professional pride. "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," she said.
Workers check the seams and weight of balls. Forward Sports has been working with Adidas since 1995 and supplies balls to some top competitions. It is believed that a cobbler was once asked to repair a punctured ball for colonial-era British soldiers, later studying how to make them. So began a business venture that spawned an industry, but child labour scandals in the 90s almost sank it.
A worker fills balls with air before packing. Now, international brands such as Adidas work closely with factories and NGOs to prevent any return to the dark days of children stitching balls in dingy backrooms.
Workers weigh balls after production. While the basic 10,000-rupee ($100) monthly salary at the factory might put a $160 FIFA-approved Brazuca ball beyond the reach of the workers, several spoken to by AFP privately said the company looked after them well.
A worker checks to make sure a ball meets the standard size. The basic 10,000-rupee ($100) monthly salary at the factory puts a $160 FIFA-approved Brazuca ball beyond the reach of the workers, but several spoken to by AFP privately said the company looked after them well.
A worker applies adhesives to the edges of a design on a football. Workers start with flat white propeller-shaped pieces of polyurethane, add the Brazuca's 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.
Workers prepare the outer covering for balls. 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.
Workers clean newly-made balls. Ninety percent of those working on the Brazuca were women. Quality control is crucial. Technicians test the Brazuca, 437 grams in weight and 69 cm in circumference, on precision equipment brought from Germany. One machine rotates the ball, while a curved arm tracks its surface, measuring 4,500 points and plotting its shape in 3D on a computer to ensure it is properly round.
Workers make designs to be used to cover the balls. Other quality control measures include checking bounce, resistance to water and mould, even the glossiness of the ball's surface. The ball's durability is also rigorously tested. A special machine fires Brazucas at a flat metal plate — they must survive 3,500 impacts at 50 km an hour.
A worker attaches a design onto a ball. The Brazuca was designed after the controversy over the Jabulani ball at South Africa 2010 — slammed for its erratic, unpredictable flight. Scientists concluded the machine-made Jabulani was too smooth and too perfectly spherical to fly straight, with a tendency to slow suddenly in mid-air.
Adidas spent two-and-a-half years working on the new ball, testing it in 10 countries with 600 players from 30 teams including Messi, England's Steven Gerrard and Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The deeper seams and textured surface of the Brazuca should disrupt the airflow over its surface, helping it fly more like a traditional 32-panel ball.