Saturday, July 1, 2006
The football industry
in Jalandhar has never had it so good. Thanks to the FIFA World
Cup-generated rage for the game, more than 75 lakh footballs have been
exported to all corners of the world in the past six months. Varinder
Indian footballers may not have been able to make their way to the FIFA World Cup, but lakhs of colourful footballs — all made in Jalandhar — have found their way to various parts of the world.
The hype over the football World Cup has given a major boost to the football-making industry of Jalandhar. The perked-up enthusiasm for the game has made the industry shun the prolonged pessimism and bask in the glory brought about by the unprecedented demand for the sports product.
The cheerless part of the story, however, is that Indian football and players have failed to draw youngsters to the game. But what brings verve to the industry and the more than 40,000 workers involved in football-making is the economic fillip given by the World Cup in an indirect way.
If the demand has soared from the annual mark of two crore footballs to nearly three crore overnight, the wages of the over 40,000 workers too have gone up significantly. This economic upswing has changed their lot. These workers, mostly women, are not only from Jalandhar city and villages nearby, where football sewing has become a cottage industry, but are scattered all over the Doaba and Majha regions of Punjab.
The World Cup has contributed a lot in effecting a positive change in its own right in the pessimistic economic scenario of Punjab, where industry in general and farming in particular have almost been reduced to economically unviable sectors.
The festive World Cup will come to an end shortly, leaving a mark on the hearts of football lovers the world over, and though the demand for footballs is already coming down, the effect is going to stay in Jalandhar and Punjab for long in one or the other manner. Reason — Jalandhar has once again been successful in bringing itself on the world map of football manufacturing.
The World Cup has seen footballs manufactured at Jalandhar landing in far-flung places of the world, including Italy, New Zealand, France, Europe, and South America.
Even as Rajesh Mayor, owner of Mayor and Company, one of renowned sports goods export house, maintains that the Jalandhar football manufacturing industry has been able to export nearly 75 lakh footballs to the world in the wake of the demand stirred by the World Cup, Ashok Katyal, MD of Sakay International, pegs the number of exported balls at one crore. As per his estimates, the annual turnover of the sports goods industry has jumped from about Rs 150 crore during last year to about Rs 250 crore — a neat Rs 100 crore leap.
While there were over 250 football-producing units in Jalandhar —largest number in the world in one city — a few big manufacturing houses, including Sakay Traders, Mayor and Company and Soccer International, have earned worldwide fame. The only stumbling block for them is the stiff competition from their Chinese counterparts. Most big football companies make footballs for internationally renowned names. For example, Mayor and Company, according to Rajesh Mayor, caters to Puma, Umbro and Mighter and so do the others.
Though footballs and accessories of all Jalandhar-based companies were grabbed by international consumer goods companies for their promotional campaigns, not a single football could become a part of the arena of World Cup events.
"Football mania has gripped people around the world like never before. The craze for footballs and accessories has caught the fancy of people so much that the usually dull Indian market, too, has turned hot all of a sudden, and to such an extent that if a football-maker and dealer sold 1000 footballs in a day in domestic market six months back, now, he would be selling at least 1500. My estimate says that there has been a 100 per cent hike in demand of football and accessories in the Indian market during the past about six months," observes Nitin Kohli, owner of Tracer and Vijaynti sports shoe brand.
Kohli says he has never seen such a "mad rush for football" ever before and he had never found football-makers so busy at any point of time earlier. "Demand from the West spiralled so much all of a sudden that those football manufacturers who were all set to export their football consignments via sea had to send these through air cargo," said Nitin Kohli.
Not only manufacturers and dealers but workers too have got busy. This situation has proved to be a boon for them as their almost static wages got doubled overnight. "If a football could be sewn at a price ranging between Rs 20 and Rs 25 six months back, now you have to pay workers about Rs 40 for sewing a football of high-quality synthetic leather," says Kohli.
Football craze has not only changed the life of labourers engaged in football sewing work but it has also changed their lives in more ways than one. Most of their wards, who could hardly afford to receive education, are now studying in schools run by the Sports Goods Foundation, a body of football and sports goods manufacturers. "Child labour has become a thing of the past now. Now children of football-makers are studying in free schools and not working in the industry," says Katyal and Mayor.