A sense of festivity and fervour is revving up in Brazil as the date of FIFA World Cup 2014 -- one of the biggest sporting events in the world -- is closing near. Pakistanis will also have a reason to joy despite the fact that no national football team is taking part in the event.
Football, which is also called soccer, is a popular game all over the world and people are crazy for it in many countries. Pakistan, on the other hand, is a cricket-loving country and keeps a humble position -- 159th -- in the world football ranking. However, the fact remains that a Pakistani company has manufactured the official match ball Brazuca which Adidas has unveiled as the official match ball for the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup that begins on June 12 and ends on July 13. Under a contract with FIFA, Adidas is the official sponsor of the world cup and it had chosen a sports goods manufacturer in Sialkot to prepare the ball.
Opportunity gained, opportunity lost: Sialkot has grasped this opportunity after a gap of 32 years as the city had the honour of producing the "Tango Ball" used in FIFA Football World Cup in 1982, but had failed to tap the opportunity from commercial point of view. Even many of the players in the world cup teams had no idea that the ball they were playing with was made in Pakistan. The government at the time had many opportunities to increase sports goods exports. For example, Argentinian football player Diego Armando Maradona was at the peak of his fame at that time and a contract could have been signed with him to launch an emphatic media campaign for Pakistani sports goods.
There was also a dire need to motivate the sports goods manufacturers in Sialkot by giving them concessions, technical knowhow, and tax relief. On another note, the government could have also prodded the Pakistani trade missions abroad to launch a media campaign in the soccer playing nations that the ball is made in Pakistan and that Pakistan produces the best quality footballs and, last but not the least, Pakistan would have introduced its own sports brands in the world market. But that opportunity which knocked the door of the nation’s fortune was lost in a way that the loss incurred was not even realised.
Meanwhile, China, Japan, India, and Thailand clocked in and took the attention of the world renowned companies like Nike and Adidas by manufacturing quality sports goods. Now it is a second chance for the Pakistani officials, missions, commercial attaches, businessmen, and the people who matter, to exploit this opportunity and not only bag tremendous orders, but also introduce new brand names and give new lease of life to the ailing industry in Sialkot.
Long traditions: Sialkot had been the hub of sports goods manufacturing even before independence as legend says a cobbler had started football manufacturing for the British soldiers. In the later years, the sports industry became the source of big foreign exchange earning when it lifted up its face and became a full-fledged industry leaving behind its cottage industry status.
The city was able to produce 60 million footballs or 70 per cent of the total world footballs production. However, it failed to maintain its momentum as the sports industry suffered a severe setback on the charge of child labour. Apathy of the government officials, corruption, and energy crisis added insult to the injury. Even now there is also a scarce need of chest-thumping euphoria as Pakistan -- on the official or the private level -- did not show any eagerness to get the contract. Adidas was obliged to give contract to the Pakistani company after it was disappointed by China to provide the ball within a specific timeframe.
World sports goods trade: Brazil, which is part of various economic blocs in the world, is spending around 13.3 billion dollars on the world cup event and is expected to gain billions of dollars in return. The nation is crazy about football and keeping in view the growing prospects of sports industry, it is developing close cooperation with India and China in trade and investment.
According to a report by Global Industry Analysts, the global market for sporting goods is expected to reach over 300 billion dollars annually by 2015. The report says that growing media coverage of sporting events, favourable demographics, and commercialisation of sports will drive market prospects for sporting goods over the next few years.
There is growing demand for sports goods in emerging markets, especially in Asia-Pacific countries which is a good omen for the future of sporting goods industry in Pakistan. The current world cup can open a vista of new opportunities for Pakistan. Qatar is also hosting the world cup in 2022 with billions of dollars investment and Pakistani manufacturers should get ready to exploit this opportunity not only in sports, but also in other fields of trade and investment.
India and China are flexing their muscles to grasp every opportunity in the world trade and Pakistan can utilise all its resources, man and machine, to change the fate of this nation. What the Pakistani sports goods industrialists have to do is to adopt modern technology and train their workforce.
Soft image: Pakistanis are looked upon with suspicion everywhere in the world and they feel the heat of green passport on airports when they are singled out from the rest of the passengers. Capitalizing on the current opportunity, the nation can prop up its soft image in business, trade, and sports circles the world over.
Export culture: According to Omair Nisar, Research and Development officer in Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industries, total exports of goods from Sialkot stood at 1.6 billion dollars last year, but the share of the football industry was mere 174 million rupees. He says that many sports goods manufacturers are either not willing or unable to fully exploit export potentials. He says that there is a need to develop export culture in Pakistan if we want to compete with China and India. He adds that the businessmen in Sialkot are willing to invest in power sector, but they cannot do it without the government support.
Made in Pakistan: The question remains whether the ball has been labeled as "made in Pakistan" or not. The media officer in the company, which has manufactured Brazuca football, was reluctant to talk on the issue.