Pakistan ball maker to fulfill World Cup dream

Wed May 21, 2014 8:19am EDT
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By Katharine Houreld

SIALKOT Pakistan (Reuters) - It was when he felt the roar of the crowd at the 2006 World Cup in Germany that Pakistani factory owner Khawaja Akhtar first dreamt up a goal of his own: to manufacture the ball for the biggest soccer tournament on the planet.

"The people were chanting all around me. I just thought, 'This is the real thing'," Akhtar told Reuters. "I was part of the crowd. I never had that kind of feeling before."

His factory in eastern Pakistan had made balls for the German Bundesliga, French league and Champions League, but he had never snagged a World Cup contract.

Last year he finally got his chance - but only 33 days to make it happen.

When Akhtar heard last autumn that Adidas' Chinese supplier for the World Cup couldn't keep up with demand, he immediately invited executives to his plant in Sialkot, a wealthy Pakistani manufacturing town with a long history of leatherwork.

Their first visit was not a success.

"They said 'You have Stone Age equipment," said his oldest son, Hassan Masood Khawaja, laughing. "After they left, my father called a meeting and said: 'This is our only chance. If we show them we can't do it, we'll never get another chance again.'"

It usually takes six months to set up a production line, but the factory only had a month - Adidas, the German sports equipment maker, was in a hurry. So Khawaja designed, made and moved the equipment into place within 33 days. Everything had to be done from scratch.   Continued...

Khawaja Masood Akhtar, CEO of Forward Sports which manufactures the official World Cup ball, talks to Reuters during an interview at its factory in Sialkot May 16, 2014.  REUTERS/Sara Farid