Football, Fairness and the Stitchers of Sialkot

Shankly’s most famous quote. It typified a passion for the game that when married to an almost inhuman work ethic and no small amount of skill gave rise to one of the greatest club sides England has seen. Beyond that, it also chimes with something that most committed football fans possess. The sense of the game as somehow bigger than our individual lives.  Much like Manchester United fans famous “Utd. Kids. Wife”  banner, it shows our remarkable ability to exaggerate the importance of the beautiful game.

The truth is that no matter how much the sport may seem all encompassing, it still remains a game. A distraction from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.  Such is the sea saw nature of football, that a minor mishap becomes a crises and a good result begets a presumed new era of footballing dominance. Its this ‘all or nothing’ culture that leads us to exaggerate the importance of minor on field misdeeds and misfortune. No matter how badly we might feel a late penalty or disallowed goal has bestowed an injustice upon us, this really isn’t the case. Not true injustice at any rate.

I say this a someone who has witnessed both real injustice and it’s sporting imitation. I’ve seen first hand the challenges faced by the disenfranchised. I’ve kicked a ball with kids whose only crime was the geography of their birth yet find themselves living a life sentence of impoverishment. I say this not because injustice is absent from football but because it is present at its very heart. Its central in every moment that makes us curse and it is there in the glory of the celebratory trophy lift.

In other words there is a footballing injustice that should boil our blood and it lies in the question of who made the very ball itself? Who toiled for the shirt on your club captains back?

Over 70% of the world’s footballs are made in the city of Sialkot in Pakistan. That’s around 60 million a year and if you bought a football recently, its likely it came from one of the city’s many factories. Consider for a moment that the official World Cup Football will retail for as much as £100 and you may be forgiven for assuming the workers of Sialkot are very wealthy indeed.  They’re not.

The average football stitcher earns around 50p per football, if they’re good that can mean £2.50 a day. To put this in context that’s barely enough to buy supper. Add to this dangerous working conditions and job insecurity and you have families struggling for survival.  This is sobering enough in isolation but becomes abhorrent when set beside the cost of the latest football shirt or the sponsorship deals offered to sporting stars.

Of course this is not a problem exclusive to football and its by no means the only injustice that challenges the sport; recent tragedies will tell you that. But as the world comes together in Brazil to showcase the best of the beautiful game, the ball they play with matters.

So if you feel your team is robbed next month, if the ref doesn’t know what he’s doing and the lino hasn’t a clue, if the ball was over the line and yellow should have been red, if you feel that bubbling of frustration and the urgent need to right a wrong…

Embrace it. Channel it. And take a stand for the workers of Sialkot.




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