<p>Workers conduct the final check to fix any cavity in the seams of a ball inside the soccer ball factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on Dec 2. — Reuters</p>

‘Made-in-Sialkot’ ball puts Pakistan in FIFA World Cup

Pakistan remains one of the world's biggest manufacturers of soccer balls, along with China and India.
Published December 9, 2022

Even though it is a cricket-mad nation, Pakistan is playing a big part in the football World Cup by making the balls used on the training fields in Qatar and the replicas sold to fans worldwide.

Forward Sports — a multinational sports equipment company in the northeastern city of Sialkot — has been working with Adidas AG for almost 20 years.

It is one of the two manufacturers of Adidas’ Al Rihla, the official World Cup ball.

Forward Sports Director Hassan Masood Khawaja said his company had made 5.5 million Al Rihla balls, including 60,000 high-quality replicas of the balls used in matches, only without the real-time technology helping referees with offside and line calls.

Hassan Masood Khawaja, director of Forward Sports, the official manufacturer of sports goods for Adidas, speaks with <em>Reuters</em> at his factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on Nov 30. — Reuters
Hassan Masood Khawaja, director of Forward Sports, the official manufacturer of sports goods for Adidas, speaks with Reuters at his factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on Nov 30. — Reuters

They are used by the teams as they train in Qatar and sold as a premium product to football enthusiasts across the globe, with the rest sold as lower-priced leisure and souvenir balls.

The match balls are made in China. Adidas declined to identify the manufacturer.

For the company, the contract is a source of pride. “More than business, it is a matter of prestige and honour for us to make the World Cup ball,” Khawaja said.

“How do we do it? It’s the skill of the people […] and our love for the sport,” he added.

A worker checks the finish of a soccer ball before packing it in the soccer ball factory, in Sialkot, Pakistan on Nov 30. — Reuters
A worker checks the finish of a soccer ball before packing it in the soccer ball factory, in Sialkot, Pakistan on Nov 30. — Reuters

While soccer is popular among fans, the national side is ranked 194 out of 211 countries by FIFA. Cricket reigns supreme.

Sialkot has a rich history of making soccer balls and other sporting equipment dating back to colonial times.

Pakistan remains one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of soccer balls, along with China and India. The local chamber of commerce said more than 43m balls valued at $191m were made in Sialkot in the 2021-22 financial year.

A worker conducts the final check to fix any cavity in the seams of a ball inside the soccer ball factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on Dec 2. — Reuters
A worker conducts the final check to fix any cavity in the seams of a ball inside the soccer ball factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on Dec 2. — Reuters

About 8 per cent of Sialkot’s population of around 1m people work in the industry but many say they have little time to actually see their product in action.

“We work all day,” said Forward Sports quality control inspector Amna, when asked if she watched soccer.

“At night, when we go home, we need to rest,” she added.

A worker moves a lot of finished balls out of the production area inside the soccer ball factory, in Sialkot, Pakistan on Nov 30. — Reuters
A worker moves a lot of finished balls out of the production area inside the soccer ball factory, in Sialkot, Pakistan on Nov 30. — Reuters