Jabulani Joys or Jokes: the truth behind the 2010 World Cup football

Chris Langley
23 January 2012

If you’ve been watching the 2010 World Cup you’ve probably caught wind of a few controversies, most notable of which is the telecasting grief caused by South Africa’s now infamous cultural instrument, the vuvuzela. But have you heard about the Jabulani hullabaloo?

The Jabulani, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, is the name of Adidas’ new World Cup football (or ‘soccer ball’), and it’s been causing quite a stir on the pitch. Between heinous shots ‘on net’ that soar into the stands and awkwardly bouncing balls that fumble their way past goalkeepers with the promise of YouTube replays that will haunt them forever, the players have had a lot to say about the Jabulani. Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, has expressed his sadness that the world’s most popular championship “will be played with such an inadequate ball”. Echoing those sentiments is Luís Fabiano, the Brazillian striker quoted as saying “obviously the guy who designed this ball never played football”. But in sports equipment engineering labs around the world, scientists are celebrating the most spherical and aerodynamically stable ball ever created.

Did you know? Jabulani means "rejoice" in Zulu, one of South Africa’s 11 official languages. The World Cup final match will be played with a gold-coloured variant called the Jo’bulani; a name inspired by Johannesburg (sometimes nicknamed “Jo’burg”).

The Jabulani is an eight-panelled, thermally-bonded (as opposed to stitched) polymer-based ball composed of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). EVA is a soft and flexible plastic that is durable, waterproof and resistant to impact stress. EVA is commonly used in sports equipment such as ski boots, surfboard traction pads and fishing rods, but thanks to its inert chemical nature it is also used in the biomedical engineering of implants and prosthetics. TPU, like EVA, is a durable plastic that provides the ball with more bounce. Unlike past World Cup footballs, the Jabulani is covered with shallow grooves that reportedly enhance the aerodynamics of the ball, allowing players better control over how it flies.

Ultimately, this controversy over ball quality is nothing new to FIFA and the World Cup. With every championship comes the introduction of a new football and as the tournament progresses and players adjust, criticism will subside. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that behind the scenes scientists are working to improve the world’s favourite sport. Now if only they could design microphones that mute vuvuzelas...

Did you know? Adidas has designed every World Cup soccer ball since 1970 which also marked the first time the World Cup used the "Buckminster" ball design (the ball made with black and white pentagonal/hexagonal panels) because that year’s World Cup, played in Mexico, was the first to be broadcast live and a black and white ball showed up more clearly on black and white televisions.

Learn More!

How Jabulanis are made: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbLjk4OTRdI

History of World Cup footballs: http://www.soccerballworld.com/HistoryWCBalls.htm

BBCarticle: England coach slams ‘worst football ever’: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/world_cup_2010/8743207.stm

CNN report: controversy surrounds World Cup ball: http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/sports/2010/06/24/barnett.wc.jabulani.ball.cnn.html

BBC Report on football criticism & video on the history of football engineering: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_environment/10231975.stm

YouTube video of England vs USA, England’s goalkeeper fumbling the ball to allow a goal: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-06-13/robert-greens-world-cup-error-may-never-be-forgiven/ Fast Fact: The Jabulani design was engineered at Loughbrough University in the United Kingdom where scientists used robots to kick the ball in a controlled manner for their experiments.

Article first published on June 25, 2010.

Photo Credit: www.eluniversal.com.co

Chris Langley

Chris is a graduate student at the University of Guelph where he studies molecular and cellular biology - more specifically the bioremediation of environments polluted by harmful pesticides and the detoxification of chemical warfare agents using bacterial proteins.  Chris obtained his undergraduate degree in microbiology and he's worked at Campbell's Soup Canada, in Toronto, developing new soups that are now on grocery store shelves (you might have tried some!).  Chris has also spent time at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa as an antibody engineer in search of a vaccine against the avian flu.  In his down time Chris likes to watch and read sci-fi movies and books, play piano/guitar, work on graphic design projects and write scientific articles for the general public.

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