In Pakistan, The World Capital Of Soccer Ball Production

Workers in a soccer ball factory in Sialkot
Workers in a soccer ball factory in Sialkot
Mudassar Shah

SIALKOT — Mohammad Idrees walks slowly, with the help of his crutches, to the factory where he works in Sialkot, Pakistan. The 35-year-old has been stitching soccer balls here for more than 17 years, earning $3 a day to support his wife and six children.

“I don’t have any other skills to earn a living, so I would have ended up roaming around the city or begging on the street if it wasn’t for the football factory in our village,” Idrees says as he sits on a low chair with some 30 other workers inside the factory. “I work for myself and for the reputation of my country, to earn respect.”

His wife Shazia Idrees and his two daughters work at the same factory. She has to take her 4-year-old son to work, because there is no one is at home to look after him.

“We can only provide for the family when both of us are working,” Shazia says. “Otherwise, we would never be able to pay all our expenses. Sometimes my husband can’t work because of the pain in his leg. Then things are very difficult.”

Every year, Pakistan exports 20 million soccer balls — which are called footballs in Pakistan, the United Kingdom and many other parts of the world — to leagues across the globe.

And Sialkot city is known as the world’s soccer ball-producing capital, boasting about 2,000 such factories in the city. There’s even a huge gold-colored soccer ball standing at the entrance to Sialkot.

Safdar Sandal was one of the first businessmen to export Pakistan-made soccer balls, and his “Tango” ball was used in the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

“At this moment, I am very happy to say that we have increased the production of footballs not only in my factory but in all factories in the city,” Sandal says. “We have about a 35% increase in their production because of the World Cup.”

For generations, making soccer balls has been the main source of living in the city, and the industry employs some 200,000 people here.

“Football is a game and a source of enjoyment for players, while for others it’s a source of income,” says 59-year-old Ghafoor Husain, who has been working in this factory since he was little. “I love football because I know that my family wouldn’t be able to eat if I didn’t stitch footballs. I don’t want my children to end up like me.”

The city of Sialkot produces some 75% of the world’s hand-stitched balls, which are sold as international brands such as Adidas, Nike and Reebok.

The workers here see only a fraction of the amount that consumers eventually pay for the sports equipment made here. Riffat Naseer, a 35-year-old mother of eight, receives only $1 dollar a day for stitching two balls.

“I started learning how to stitch footballs when I got married and saw the women stitching them at home,” she says. “My eyesight has deteriorated, and I have backaches and feel pain in my shoulders. But I still have to work to support my big family. I have to work hard.”

Child labor and a dark past

At one time, most of the factory workers here were children. But in the wake of an international outcry, child labor has been banned in Sialkot since 2007. “The production of footballs decreased when the government banned child labor in factories,” says Liaqat Chudhery, a factory manager who used to employ children. It’s hard now to find workers.”

The wages are low too. Women earn around $20 dollars a week while men can earn double that amount. The chairman of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce says this is something that they’re struggling to improve.

“We are constantly working on that,” he says. “If the exporters get good prices for the products, then we will bring back better payment for the workers.”

After a 10-hour shift at the factory, Mohammad Idrees and his wife are walking back home. Shazia takes off her husband’s shoes and begins to cry.

“I wish my children could get a good education, but it will never happen,” she says. “I know we can’t, and will never be able to afford it, because we can hardly even provide meals for them. I know my children’s lives will be like ours, and I know our lives will never change at all.”

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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