- Nearly 70% of the world's soccer balls are made in the city of Sialkot, Pakistan.
- Sialkot is home to at least 1,000 soccer ball factories that employ almost 60,000 people.
- The demand for soccer balls has dropped dramatically during the pandemic, but a factory we visited has its sights on the 2022 World Cup.
Most of the world’s soccer balls — nearly 70% — are made in one small city in Northern Pakistan.
“The demand for footballs has dropped drastically due to the coronavirus because playgrounds are closed, there are no matches, people don’t have the space to play it. So buyers have cut demand by 70%,” said Waseem Shahbaz Lodhi, managing partner of Bola Gema Pakistan, a factory that produces 160,000 balls per month.
At Bola Gema Pakistan’s factory, workers are responsible for all aspects of a soccer ball’s creation, from cutting and molding sheets of hot rubber to patching together the 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons that comprise a ball’s exterior.
“The industry has been around for nearly a century, and that’s why our perfection of skills is amazing,” Lodhi said.
FIFA-approved balls like the ones Bola Gema makes can sell for over $100 in the US — more than the monthly wages of some workers who make them.
Ahead of the last World Cup in 2018, Pakistan exported more than 37 million soccer balls across the globe. And Bola Gema has already begun manufacturing balls ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
While business is down due to a stall in team sports during the pandemic, Lodhi has been looking out for his workers.
“We’ve been home for two to three months, but the owners of Bola Gema still paid us. So that’s why we weren’t worried,” Saeeda Bibi, a Bola Gema factory worker, said.
The company also created a store where workers can buy household products at a discounted price.
The shop is made possible through a 10% premium on soccer balls sold to foreign buyers through the Fair Trade Association, Lodhi said. That 10% is taken back to provide lower prices at the store for Bola Gema employees.
As the pandemic drags on, Lodhi hopes that the soccer ball industry will bounce back.
“We are getting new inquiries, and we are hoping that despite the corona pandemic, we will start getting orders,” he said. “And the production that fell by 70% will gradually start getting better, and we won’t be forced to close the factory.”