World Cup: Adidas' Jabulani Ball Promises Higher Scores, Anguished Goalies

Other manufacturers may produce colorful balls for next month's FIFA World Cup, but there's only one official ball, and for the 11th year, Adidas earned the right to field its version of what a world-class ball should look like.

This tournament's ball, called "Jabulani," which means "to celebrate" in Bantu, represents advances in both design and innovation.

Rather than being made of leather, which is traditional, the Jabulani ball is constructed of synthetics. Instead of 14 panels, there are only eight, which are held together by thermal bonding, not hand stitching.

That "grip 'n' groove" technology makes for improved wind channeling and, thus, a truer flight, Adidas officials say. Fewer seams also translate into a greater striking surface, making the Jabulani the roundest and most accurate soccer ball ever created.

As a result, this ball is faster than ever — potentially making for higher-scoring games. That's a plus for markets, like the U.S., where less soccer-savvy audiences are less appreciative of a sophisticated defense than of the primal thrill of a boot into the net.

But it's likely to lead to frustrated goalies, who have already started to whine about it. Kasey Keller, a U.S. goalie, told the Wall Street Journal that the ball is too unpredictable and thinks the sport should just decide on a ball, and forget futzing around with innovation. Take away that man's iPad!

Apart from the technical finesse this ball represents, its design was also conceived to pay homage to the African continent's first crack at hosting the games.

Following the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Adidas dispatched designers to Africa to begin gathering data for the 2010 redesign. "Designers showed us videos from their trips," says Antonio Zea, director of soccer for Adidas America. "They had pictures of fans who create these hard hats decorated with dioramas about their teams that expressed their passion for the game."

One of the factors influencing the ball's design was South Africa's diversity — its various climates, tribes, and languages. The number 11 turns out to have been seminal: "There are 11 players on a soccer team, 11 distinct tribes in South Africa, 11 languages spoken, and this is our 11th time to furnish the World Cup ball," Zea says. To honor all that, Adidas used 11 colors on the ball and a graphic image that represents the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.

World Cup jerseys
World Cup Jerseys for Spain and South Africa

Adidas will also outfit 12 federations at the World Cup, more than any other brand. In addition to South Africa, they'll include Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Japan, Spain, France, Nigeria, Paraguay, Denmark, France, and even Greece.

Adidas jerseys will feature the company's high performance compression TECHFIT technology, in which various bands around the shirt improve speed, power, endurance, and vertical jumping ability. Adidas says the new technology — soccer's answer to the Olympics's controversial swimsuits — can improve a player's power by 5.3%, his vertical leaping ability by 4%, and his sprinting speed by 1.1%.

World Cup jerseys
World Cup jerseys for Argentina and France

"The bands minimize muscle vibration, which minimizes fatigue," Zea says, adding that the company also makes TECHFIT underwear.

Asked about the potential for controversy — which broke out already when the French team wore TECHFIT gear when playing Ireland — Zea is philosophical. "Our innovation gives players a slight edge, but still allows them to be part of the team."

Zea says replica balls and jerseys will be on sale at soccer specialty retailers. Adidas is also promising a huge digital push as part of the tournament, with lots of social networking to engage fans.

Below are the F50 adiZero cleats, which will be worn by World Player of the Year Lionel Messi (Argentina) and U.S. forward Jozy Altidore at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

World Cup cleats

Chris Barbour from Adidas is one of our Most Creative People. Read more here.

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7 Comments

  • Adam

    I can appreciate that a lot thought went into the design of the ball, which is more then I can say for the logo. But, I agree with Jonathan, would love to see more transparency in adidas's fair trade practices and material resourcing.

  • Walindah

    The term Bantu is not only archaic in the context in which it is used in this article, it is also derogatory. The word "Jabulani" means "to celebrate" in Zulu, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa.

  • blahblahblah

    But it's likely to lead to frustrated goalies, who have already started to whine about it. Kasey Kelly, a U.S. goalie...

    I'm assuming you mean Kasey Keller mate....unless you just interviewed some random bum keeper from the states.

  • Lozza

    With regards to these extra super duper lightweight boots.
    The last line is quite telling

    Dr Mark S. Myerson, M.D. a renowned expert in foot and ankle reconstruction at the Mercy Medical centre in Baltimore, Maryland, United States thinks that one the reasons for these fractures in Football players is the fact that many football players are bowed legged and have a chronically unstable or loose ankles. This puts an abnormal amount of strain on especially the fifth metatarsal, increasing the chance of a stress fracture.

    Other suggestions explaining why we tend to see more metatarsal fractures these days than we have in the past included: an increase in the number of games played at the top level, an increase in training intensity, or even the training that a lot of teams do on artificial surfaces, which has a higher impact on the body.

    Additionally, the pitches seem to be a bit harder these days than what they used to be due to their drainage. Grass pitches are often sand-based to improve drainage. The watering of these pitches increases their speed, but does not improve their hardness.

    Players themselves are fitter, faster and stronger than they used to be. Again, this increases the forces that feet have to deal with.

    Finally, some specialists argue that today's boots are lighter and less supportive and protective than they were in the past.

    I've been watching football since the mid 1970's and it seemed we only started hearing about this rash of broken metatarsal since lighter thinner boots came in. I wonder what sort of protection these boots offer the player?

  • Skerminkel

    Interesting. Please note that there is no language called "Bantu". It is an archaic term that was used to refer to black languages. The word means "people" in the Nguni family of languages (e.g. Xhosa and Zulu).

  • David Unruh

    >> Kasey Kelly, a U.S. goalie, told the Wall St. Journal

    Wow - you couldn't even cut and paste this correctly from the Wall St. Journal article? Obviously not a soccer fan. Pretty sad considering Kasey Keller is one of the top US goalies of all time.

  • Jonathan Rosenthal

    Interesting article. A pity that there is no mention of the labor aspects of producing soccer balls and uniforms. Given that the World Cup in is in post Apartheid South Africa, it would be a very interesting subject to look at the social relationships in manufacturing the products and in South Africa today.