I’ve been watching the Confederations Cup, an international soccer tournament, on tv for the past few days, and I see that a problem has not really been fixed.
For the 2010 World Cup of Soccer (Futbol), Adidas introduced a new ball unlike any that had been seen before. Adidas holds the contract with FIFA to provide the soccer balls that are be used in the games. This contract provides plenty of opportunities for Adidas to make some serious money.
Adidas wondered how it could really cash in, and they came up with a way to make everybody say the name “Adidas,” over and over again: they came out with a new, really crappy ball. And that ball, or its very similar offspring, is still in use.
The Adidas “Jabulani” ball has no stitches. It’s panels are bonded together in a kind of heat/glue process that makes the outer surface completely smooth. This makes for what aerodynamicists call “laminar” airflow around the ball, at least until the air gets to the back of the ball, where it makes a slight vacuum, due to turbulence.
Huh? Don’t worry about the technical stuff. What matters is that the Jabulani acts like a beach-ball. When a player kicks it up into the air, it slows down drastically, almost floats in suspension, and then falls back to the ground, significantly short of where you might expect from its original trajectory.
This causes passes through the air to travel so slowly that the defenders can get to the landing spot before the ball reaches the intended receiver. As a result, it essentially takes away the long pass as a strategy in many situations and thereby significantly alters the game of soccer.
Several good teams could not adapt, in the 2010 World Cup, to these changes. These teams had long used the long pass as an integral part of their strategy. Adidas essentially changed the outcome of many matches with their new beach-ball (although Spain might have won the whole thing, anyway – they had a great team).
I’m frustrated by the slowdown in the game when I watch, anymore. Scoring hasn’t suffered, due to the fact that the new ball curves like crazy on shots, but midfield play certainly has. The lack of the threat of a long pass has allowed defenses to swarm around the ball more, almost like in an AYSO game for eight-year-olds.
Is this another of my occasional digressions from politics into sports? Not really. This is a clear example of a giant corporation making a mess of something, strictly for the purpose of increasing their already massive profits.
The World Cup is a fantastic event that brings the countries of the world together, in peace, in civilized competition. Aside from a few incidences of hooliganism, it’s a chance for teams and fans from around the world to rub shoulders, have a beer together, and talk about their different lives and loves. It’s an incredible opportunity for fun, interaction, and sewing the seeds of peace.
Adidas hasn’t really changed all that, but the World Cup has been tainted by their greed. Now, there are rumors that, despite record profits in recent years. Adidas in testing a new ball that more closely resembles the balls of the past. Let’s see if they can fix it in time for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.