When the World Cup kicks off on June 12, millions will be watching their favourite players in action, be it the ones they follow on the field or ones picked in their dream team.

However, almost 14,000 km away, about 1,400 people will have their eyes glued not on the players but the ball that they will be showing their skills with. Every goal will still get a loud cheer but every minute the ball spends in the middle, the smile will only get wider on those 1,400 faces.

The ball out there in the middle would’ve gone through the hands of those 1,400 – the staff at Forward Sports, the factory in Sialkot (Pakistan) that has co-produced the footballs for Brazil 2014.

“When I used to watch football on television, I never thought that one day I’d be making those with my own hands,” Lubna Shabbir, a quality controller at the factory, told Al Jazeera. “It’s a matter of pride not just for me but the city and the country that a product manufactured here is making its presence felt on a global level.”

Sialkot's comeback

Forward Sports employs around 1,400 workers on its football production line [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

Sialkot first produced a World Cup ball in 1982, during the time of hand-stitching. Brazil 2014, however, will see thermo-bonded footballs, the production of which started in China. However, when demand grew out of control, Khawaja Masood Akhtar, CEO of Forward Sports, stepped in and ensured that the city that once produced 70% of the world’s footballs snatched limelight once again.

“Brazuca was supposed to be made in China alone but the design was so good and response was so overwhelming that Adidas decided to have as second source in order to boost production,” Aziz ur Rehman, Adidas’ Director Sourcing Pakistan, said. “Forward Sports is one of the top notch factories and it was an easy decision to have it as a second source.”

Adidas, the company providing the World Cup footballs since 1970, did not have much time though when the decision was being made.

Challenge accepted

“We were already producing thermo-bonded official footballs for the Champions League as well as Bundesliga so we had the know-how and experience,” Akhtar said. “But for Brazuca, the official ball for Brazil 2014, we had to redesign out production line and develop the machinery.

“We were asked to do some work on this ball in the last week of August. We managed to get the new machinery set up and running in just 33 days. The first shipment for Brazuca was made in November and the last one left our premises in April.”

According to Sialkot Chamber of Commerce President Dr Sarfraz Bashir, the city produces five to six million footballs per year. But the city is known for much more than just footballs. It is a hub for not only sport goods manufacturing but also leather products, surgical goods and wooden crafts, with exports from Sialkot amounting to $1.6bn annually.

Brazuca

 

The name of the ball was revealed in September 2012 after being selected by a public vote organised by the Local Organising Committee and Adidas.

According to FIFA, "the informal term brazuca is used by Brazilians to describe national pride in the Brazilian way of life", and "mirroring their approach to football, it symbolises emotion, pride and goodwill to all".

“Business in Sialkot is booming, people are happy and life is good,” Bashir said. “Majority of households have tv, fridge, motorcycles and cars. People here make enough money to live a decent life. There is no fear of terrorism, people are only concerned about working and earning for their families. Even the literacy rate here in Sialkot is better than the national average.”

The achievement

Sialkot did lose its football-manufacturing share to China few years ago with child labour and lack of technology hampering its production. However, with Sialkot virtually free of child labour – with training and vocational skills provided instead – and the advent of technology in the city, the share is rising once again.

Forward Sports produces around 34,000 footballs per day during peak season. While equal emphasis is placed on every type of product and for every client they have, Brazuca’s presence in the centre circle on June 12 will add that something special to Akhtar and Sialkot.

“It was my dream to be making the ball for the World Cup. Every football manufacturer strives for this honour. Finally, after years of dreaming and hard work, we have converted this into reality.”

Source: Al Jazeera