SIALKOT: 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.
Cricket-mad Pakistan might not have much of a football team — 159th in FIFA’s world rankings — but Sialkot has a long history of manufacturing top-class balls.
Forward Sports has been working with Adidas since 1995 and supplies match balls to some of the world’s top football competitions, including the Champions League, the German Bundesliga — and now the World Cup.
In any case, assembling modern match balls is not simply a matter of sitting down with a needle and thread.
The Forward Sports plant stands barely a free kick’s distance from the dust and chaos of the Grand Trunk Road, the great British-era highway that cuts across the subcontinent all the way to Kolkota.
In contrast to the baking, deafening road outside where ancient goods trucks, donkey carts and motorbikes overloaded with families and livestock compete to avoid potholes, order and efficiency reign inside the factory.
On the Brazuca production line, women in headscarves, some with their faces veiled, work briskly.
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.
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 they were more diligent and meticulous than their male colleagues.
Making the Brazuca was no simple matter for Forward, as Adidas gave the order at short notice when they realised their main manufacturer in China was unable to meet demand.
In just over a month, Forward managed to have the equipment it needed to make the Brazuca from scratch.
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