Pakistan ranks 164th in FIFA's football ranking. But the country is number one in the production of soccer balls. In this year's World Cup, the likes of Lionel Messi and Philipp Lahm will kick the made-in-Pakistan balls.
Pakistan is better known for its love of cricket than a passion for football. Its national football team does not even make it to the Asian qualifying round of the FIFA World Cup. The country, however, produces around 70 percent of the total number of hand-made soccer balls in the world. Around the time of the World Cup the production jumps to more than 60 million footballs.
The central Pakistani city of Sialkot is the hub of the country's football manufacturing industry. Apart from producing footballs, cricket bats, and badminton rackets for domestic consumption, this small town also exports to the rest of the world. For this year's World Cup in Brazil, starting from June 12, the likes of Lionel Messi and Philipp Lahm will be kicking 'Brazuca' balls made in a Sialkot-based factory.
"Football is the world's most popular sport. The fact that FIFA chose Pakistan to manufacture footballs for the World Cup tournament is an honor for our country," Sarfaraz Bashir, president of Sialkot's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), told DW. The official said the SCCI has invited Brazil's ambassador to Islamabad to visit the city, where he would be presented the Brazuca football.
"It will definitely project Pakistan's 'soft image' to the world. We are really proud of our achievement," Bashir added.
Good for economy
A factory owned by Forward Sports Private Limited in Sialkot has become the center of attention of the local and international media these days. That's where the Brazuca is being made.
"When we received the news that we got the order to make footballs for the World Cup, we were all ecstatic," said a worker, adding that the owners of the factory organized a dinner for them to celebrate the achievement.
The factory owner, Malik Khwaja Masood Akhtar, told DW he had prepared soccer balls for a number of international events, but preparing Brazucas was more challenging.
"We normally make hand-made footballs. Manufacturing machine-made balls was a tough task. We had to use various computer programs and modern equipment to produce the footballs. We didn't have experts who could do this job, but we worked hard and did not compromise on quality," Akhtar told DW.
The success of Pakistan-made Brazucas has been good for the city's economy. Muhammad Asif, who also owns a football manufacturing company, says all factory owners in the city are getting offers from international companies like Adidas and Nike.
"It is beneficial for all factory owners, and for the whole of Pakistan, " he said.