The World Cup’s Invisible Players: The Sialkot Football Stitchers

Sialkot ball-producers export up to 60 million footballs annually.  Photo (cc) flickr user the(?)

Sialkot ball-producers export up to 60 million footballs annually. Photo (cc) flickr user the(?)

If you are a football fan you’ve probably heard of Sialkot, Pakistan – about 70 percent of the world’s hand-sewn footballs are made there.

In the 1980s, Sialkot gained international celebrity status when it produced the Tango ball used in the 1982 FIFA World Cup.  Today Sialkot’s hand-stitched balls face competition from the machine-made and machine-glued balls produced in China. The balls that will be used in World Cup matches this summer, made by hand in Sialkot in previous years, are now being produced in China by machine.

A Sialkot-produced soccer ball has 32 panels that are stitched together, while the machine-made  Jabulani World Cup ball has eight thermally bonded pieces. The hand-made ball retails for about $150; the hand-stitched replica can sell for as little as $25.

Despite this, the football industry in Sialkot is going strong.  Forty million soccer balls (up to 60 million in World or European Cup years) worth about $210 million are produced there annually.

Rumor has it that Sialkot’s sports industry was born when a tourist’s football fell apart while visiting the city.  Unable to find a replacement, he asked a local craftsman to fix it.  The craftsman fixed the ball so well that, according to the story, it spawned an entire industry.  The craftsman’s name was Syed Sahib, and whether he is fictional or not, there is a street in the city that bears his name. 

Adidas made the decision to switch to the thermally bonded balls for the 2006 World Cup. The goal was to make the balls perform more consistently when players kicked them. With a hand-stitched ball the seams occasionally produce dead spots.

Two years ago, Adidas transferred its proprietary technology to the Sialkot-based company Forward Sports, which has started to make small quantities of thermally bonded balls. Recently, the company successfully lobbied Adidas to use the thermal-bonding technology and produced balls for the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid, one of the biggest events on the global soccer calendar.

At the moment however, the city is gripped by football fever with business activity at its peak. A rush of cargo agents can be seen at the Sialkot dry port waiting for clearance, and the customs’ offices has extended their hours to smooth the export process.

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8 thoughts on “The World Cup’s Invisible Players: The Sialkot Football Stitchers

  1. shahab khan

    wow its really amazing,,,,,, me too from sialkot but living in england so its really made me proud that our region is suck a vital player in soccer world,,,,,, love u sialkot

  2. rehan

    This is really great. Sialkot has always been famous for producing all kinds of sports good.

  3. Numair Fakhar

    Me from Lahore , Pakistan .
    i knew that sport Goods are made in Pakistan , but i am so surprised to read that article , It made me so much proud . Live Long Pakistan .

  4. fazal adnan

    I thank you all who read my blog and apreciate this effort,,,, this really encourage me for further writingsss,,, thanks again

  5. Ammar

    Pakistan may not be in the World Cup but Pakistani FoOtballs are surely a part of Every tournament in the World.. Its time that the world should now start knowing that Pakistan is surely a great country.. Over 80% of the FoOtballs today in the whole World are made by Pakistan..
    Pakistan Rocks..

  6. shaheer naeem

    No one can reach to the standards of pakistani footballs ,we should remember those childrens and young and old men & women who make them by taking a very low wage and have no favorable industrial laws for them…

  7. Rahman Ahmed

    helo everybody,,i am <Rahman from Sialkot but curtrently in Italy becouse i am also exporter of sports goods,,,i am really happy to see that blog,,<live Lonbg PAkistan,,,Inshallah

  8. FARHAN

    really happy too see this blog..proud to be pakistani but one complain is there just for the little money pakistani producers label it made in england or any other developed country instead of made in pakistan due to this many people are unaware of the best football r being made in pakistan..

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