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A set of convergent factors prevent India from receiving and executing orders for footballs, with Pakistan zooming ahead in a rich industry...

In not so good news for the sports goods manufacturers of India, especially those in the Punjab city of Jalandhar, it has been revealed that Pakistan’s ability to manufacture and supply footballs, has earned them the right not just to execute high volume orders to European countries, but also the famed Brazuca, the official football for all World Cup 2014 matches to be held in Brazil this June.

It is specifically in the above mentioned field of manufacturing footballs that Indian companies seem to lag their Pakistani counterparts. This is a considerable feat for a country that, as recently as a few years ago, was reliant on hand stitched footballs than machine made ones.

What is the reason behind the general Pakistan manufacturers’ success? The answer would converge to the technology implemented in making the precision oriented ball.

Pakistan-based Forward Sports CEO, Khwaja Masood Akthar, told The Economic Times that he convinced Adidas to help him obtain the revolutionary machinery which would help implement the wide range of precision tests required to produce the World Cup ball- all of 437 gms in weight and 11 cms in radius.  

Adidas had originally taped China to manufacture the ball, however, an issue with rising wages, ensured the Chinese passed up the opportunity. As Adidas scoured for an answer to their conundrum, up stepped the Sialkot manufacturers, who successfully threw their hat into the ring and nabbed the orders.

Though Akthar has refused to shed light on the finer details including the price per ball or the number of units that can be manufactured, experts predict about 50 balls can be manufactured per day as per the latest gadgetry installed at the Sialkot facility as compared to five hand-stitched ones per day.

In all this flurry of orders going around, one may say that the manufacturers in India are the hardest hit, especially the ones in Jalandhar.

One would be hard pressed to think that with orders from top Blighty brands such as Umbro and Mitre alongside Liverpool partners Xolo and from all over the world such as France, UK, the US, Australia and the Netherlands, the Jalandhar manufacturers have scant to worry however that is not the case.

Executing the orders seems to be the anathema with a combination of four major deterrents such as unavailability of cheap and unskilled labour, technology and infrastructure fallacies, unwaveringly high raw material costs and national policies that are beyond the times. This means that, despite getting a considerable bulk of orders, Indian manufacturers fail to meet the demand.

Thankfully however, an increased demand for balls this time around as compared to the 2010 World Cup has seen an increase of 20-25 percent in terms of business with a total of 30 crores earned by manufacturing nearly 20 lakh football.

Anonymous manufacturers have said that Xolo, in partnership with Liverpool FC have placed an order for five lakh footballs while another manufacturer let loose that Chelsea FC had placed order for its official club footballs.

Export Director of Rattan Brothers, Tilak Khinder, has explained that his company had successfully manufactured close to 3 lakh footballs, 80 thousand of which were ordered by FIFA for promotional purposes.

Pakistan has however has received and order to manufacture SIX crore footballs, with Nike and Adidas both tapping up Sialkot based manufacturers. India also hold the expertise in manufacturing the football’s bladder, with NK Super Group, an NCR based company who has wide reaching US patents in the field of manufacturing high retention and quality bladders, expected to export them to Pakistan.

The missing link seems to be the fact India cannot manufacture Polyurethane (PU), which is a key ingredient in the manufacture of footballs, with the country reliant on importing the material from countries such as Korea and China adding to the costs, while Pakistan has successfully implemented its own PU manufacturing industry situated around Lahore and other parts of the country.

"We need units which can manufacture PU in our country. For that we need space or a special economic zone (SEZ) in the area. Punjab being a land-locked state, there aren't big chunks of land where one can set up a big industry. Plus, we don't have ports nearby. Unlike Sialkot which has an airport, we have to suffer delay in goods reaching us from Mumbai ports," lamented Vikas Gupta of Soccer International.

“Our (India) import restrictions were very stringent and the import duty was very high which put off the companies. Pakistan, on the other hand, welcomed the opportunity with both hands and brought down the import duty considerably. Since then, Pakistan's industry has flourished and got technological support from big companies," added Gupta.

Aman Chopra, Shant Sports Industries, explained the low dollar conversion rates in India are another factor.

"Pakistan has been eating into our business because it offers better quality products at much cheaper price. Compared to around Rs 60 per dollar, the conversion rate in Pakistan is close to Rs 100.”

"We need institutes to impart training to labour," added Chopra pointing to the paucity of skilled labour in India as a prime reason companies cannot accept orders from abroad.

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