It takes a lot of balls to do what we do

Football coaches talk a lot about decision-making. We seem to be forever discussing intelligence in players, and how to develop children who make good choices in games. We all want to see clever footballers who recognise what’s going on around them and see opportunities to make things happen. We try our best to nurture the bravery to try new things, and to develop the skills to evaluate, learn and grow.

But I feel we have missed something: There is a need for football coaches, clubs, academies and programmes to have a look at some of the decisions they make too. We are fortunate to operate in a sport which doesn’t need much flashy, expensive equipment. To play football all you really need is a ball. We all know that some footballs are better than others, and we all have our favourite types and brands. But when was the last time we had an honest look at where our footballs come from and what impact our football purchases have on the world.

The aim of this blog is to have a look at one of the biggest decisions we make as football people, and ask whether we are making intelligent, brave decisions ourselves.

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Even with the wonders of the internet, our view of the world of football production is a misty one at best. There seems to be a lack of knowledge out there about where footballs come from, especially so from the bigger brands. But from what I have researched, here are some facts:

  • The way footballs are produced is changing slowly and becoming more mechanised. But still the vast majority of footballs, including those from most major brands, are made by hand in poorer parts of the world.
  • It can take over three hours to hand stitch a football. 1800 stitches are needed in each ball. Stitchers earn about 50p per ball, and work long hours often in poor conditions.
  • In 2010, 85% of footballs were made in Pakistan.
  • Child labour is still used in the production of footballs.

It is clear that the families that make the footballs we use live very differently to us. We often don't consider them at all when we purchase the things they've made, but we should. Often the footballs that our children play with are made by children who don't go to school especially so they can earn money by stitching. They have a very urgent need to provide for their families basic needs, and schooling or fooball play time isn't a consideration for them. There's something wrong there, it seems to me.

At Ministry of Football, I have spent a great deal of time and effort designing and enforcing comprehensive Child Protection policies. But it wasn't until a few months ago that I realised the glaring omission I had made. I mean, how can we really say that we take Child Protection seriously when we use footballs that are made by unconsidered children in poor conditions for unfair wages?

Even when footballs are made by adults, the working conditions and pay have an effect on the children in those families. A mother who earns a living by stitching the footballs we play with will be able to give considerably more to her children if she is recompensed fairly for her time and skill. If she has to work longer hours for less money, she has less time for her children and less money to contribute to her family. 

I have lived and worked in a country where children often need to work to pay for their families basic needs, where schooling is a luxury and where choice - in terms of what work to do - is pretty much unheard of. So I know that to simply stop buying the products of child labour does not solve any problems. Families can suffer if children are taken out of this employment without replacing the income they bring. It is a complex issue.

But there is a solution: Fairtrade footballs. A stitcher making a Fairtrade football earns twice as much per ball as they do for a non-Fairtrade football. In addition, some of what you pay for that ball goes to health, education and small business projects that aim to help the families that earn their living from stitching. Buying a Fairtrade football removes you from an economy which treats children and their families unfairly. If enough people buy Fairtrade then big brands will have to look at the way they work and the deal they offer their workers. Things can change.

The world is the way it is because of the result of the billions of decisions that we make collectively each day. Our decisions have a greater effect than most because we are richer than most. How we spend and invest our money has the greatest effect of all our decisions. It's not always easy to know what is right. But in this case it is. Be a good decision-maker. Play life intelligently. This is about more than football. Have the courage to make the right choice.

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What can you do?

  1. Don’t be ignorant. Educate yourself. Start by watching the video below. But don’t stop there. Try to find out who makes the footballs you buy, and under what conditions.
  2. Act on your knowledge. Don’t be fooled by a brand. If you believe in equality and fairness, make your life a celebration of what you believe. Don’t be blinkered. Care.
  3. Share your knowledge. Have belief that we can make a difference. Talk about the issues of Child Labour with the families you work with. Ask them which footballs they'd rather you use. What would the children you coach think if they knew the football they played with was made by a child of their age who works 14 hours a day for less than £3. Not sure? Ask them. Teachers, there is an excellent role-play from Save the Children below. 

Our Commitment

Ministry of Football is proud to announce that as of July 2012 we will only purchase Fairtrade footballs. We will also act as a supplier of Fairtrade balls to the families we work with, to allow them to make better decisions about how they spend their money.

Jamie Lloyd at Ethical Footballs provides our footballs. His contact details are: 

07966 144 819

We bought the Premier size 3 ball at a cost of roughly £7 per ball (because we bought in bulk). These were delivered ten weeks after agreeing the design (below). We have found them to be of the same quality as the equivalently priced footballs from leading brands (Why wouldn't they be? Fairtrade balls are made by the same people, with the same skill and same materials as the leading brands' balls. The only difference is in the pay they receive and the conditions they work in).

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  By Mark Carter, July 2012

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Mark Carter

07772 716 876