Pakistan eyes co-op with China in sports goods as Pak soccer balls to hit Qatar
SIALKOT, Nov 14 (Gwadar Pro) – Made-in-Pakistan soccer balls will make a glamourous appearance in the upcoming 2022 FIFA world cup Qatar to be held from Nov 20. Al Rihla, the official ball of the international event, is made in Sialkot, a city that is home to premium quality sports goods.
Kingdom of soccer balls
Sialkot produces about 600 million soccer balls per year, accounting for more than half of the world’s total production. “Sialkot has been meeting up to 70 % [soccer ball] requirement of the world,” Saad Ghani, marketing manager of Talon Company, told Gwadar Pro, adding that “a little of its share has been reduced since more countries have ventured into the industry.”
Debuting in the 1982 Spain World Cup, Sialkot-made soccer balls have shone at the apex of the football kingdom for nine times (upcoming one in Qatar included). The “tango” balls pioneered the use of rubber inlaid over the seams to prevent water from seeping through, becoming the first water-resistant ball in the FIFA world cup.
Pakistan-made soccer balls have appeared in 9 FIFA events [Data compiled by Gwadar Pro]
“No one can make football like it is made in our country even China can’t make it. The quality of our football is so good that it is used all over the world,” exclaimed Imran Zaidi, a local sports shopkeeper.
Apart from a powerhouse of soccer balls, Sialkot also produces a wide range of other sports goods. As per the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA), the city has been the “centre of excellence for the production of sports goods” with nearly 95 percent of the sports industry’s total production in the country.
Restricted development due to lack of high tech
Despite the booming sports goods industry in Sialkot, the industry is far from being a rosy undertaking.
One of the major hurdles is a lack of large-scale mechanisation. “In Sialkot, most sporting goods are made by hand, with long production cycles and high production costs,” said Assad Bajwa, general manager of Talon Group. In the case of cricket balls, “a worker hand stitch one ball in 25 minutes and a machine is stitching 50 balls in 25 minutes,” said Rana Tahseen.
In its 2021 Sportswear Report, the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) says that Sialkot is plagued by the absence of a materials testing laboratory and state-of-the-art dyeing units and diversified product lines.
To rev up the sports industry, SMEDA suggests bringing the latest technologies into Pakistan, building high-tech manufacturing units for composite-based material goods production and working closely with countries such as China and Korea, in its 2018 sports goods industry report on Sialkot.
Pak-China cooperation a possible way forward
To navigate such headwinds, Pakistan is looking to China for collaboration. “Chinese industrialists can provide us with expertise in those [sports] products which we can produce here under their supervision which we had to import from them,” local sports goods manufacturer Nauman Babar told Gwadar Pro.
According to media reports, a Chinese firm called Challenge has planned to invest US$ 150mln in setting up a textile industrial park in Lahore, which will house fabric units, dyeing facilities, and garment manufacturing units to enhance sportswear exports from Pakistan to America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and other regions.
The company’s managing director predicted, in a February interview with media, that once the industrial park goes into operation, the company's sportswear exports from Pakistan will grow to US$120 mln in the first year and then, to US$400 mln over the next few years.
In his address at a webinar on Pak-China sports goods cooperation in September 2021, CEO Sun Yongming of a Beijing-based sports goods firm envisioned that Pakistani and Chinese enterprises can set up joint ventures in cricket goods.
“One possible area of cooperation is that Chinese firms provide high tech such as sensors and Pakistani enterprises incorporate such technology in the products during manufacturing,” Sun told Gwadar Pro in an interview after the webinar.
Sun hinted at more possible cricket cooperation between Pakistani enterprises and firms in China’s Zhejiang, as the Chinese province has a relatively long history of playing cricket and more importantly, it will hold the 19th Asian Games in 2023, where the cricket match will come into prominence.