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The Jabulani ball epitomises the World Cup’s legacy for Africa

29 June 2010

In awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, FIFA hoped it would allow the tournament to provide a lasting sporting legacy for the wider continent. The experience of the Jabulani ball not only contradicts this belief but also brings into question FIFA’s wider claims to being a socially responsible organisation.

A recent report by the International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF) has revealed that replicas of FIFA’s much-hyped Jabulani ball are being produced by stitchers in Pakistan earning as little as £1.85 a day. Typically working a six-day week, workers take home a minimum of 6,000 rupees a month (less than £50) – under half the recognised living wage in Pakistan. An ILRF survey of stitchers also found that over 50% do not even receive the legal minimum wage per month.

With Adidas targeting £1.2 billion sales this year, the idea of a major corporation maximising profit margins by using cheap labour in the subcontinent isn’t new or surprising. However, in light of the ILRF’s findings, one might question why FIFA didn’t insist on supplying the tournament and its many peripheral outlets with footballs made in fair trade conditions or even made in Africa itself.

“Africa has the skills to stitch footballs for the tournament and for all its attached merchandising,” says Will Prochasha, director of a leading African sports charity. “With high levels of unemployment across Africa, the production of World Cup footballs on the continent would have given a huge economic boost to some of the poorest nations on earth. A great opportunity has been missed for the World Cup to kick-start industry and deliver a lasting legacy to the World Cup”.

Mr Prochaska has the right to be surprised at FIFA’s decision, given that the social enterprise he represents, Alive & Kicking, has been manufacturing and distributing balls in Africa since 2004. It has set up stitching centres in Kenya and Zambia where footballs are made for free distribution to children across Africa. The centres have created hundreds of local jobs, paying a fair wage in areas of high unemployment, and have given nearly 300,000 footballs to children in every country in Africa. All balls they make are sourced from local leather, ensuring they are twice as puncture resistant as imported ones.

Replicas of the Jabulani, stitched in Silcot Pakistan, are currently retailing in South Africa for 249 Rand – more than the average South African weekly wage. They are made out of a synthetic material which is poorly adapted to the rough playing conditions common in Africa, and their 8-panel design makes them difficult to repair if they burst.

In the face of such evidence, FIFA’s claim to be providing a legacy to Africa via the World Cup does not appear to hold up. It would appear that the lure of lucrative sponsorship deals have once again trumped the opportunities for encouraging social and economic change that the World Cup has the potential to create.

By Robbie Barkell

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