Why the World Cup ball is lovely jubbly

by William Abbs

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

If you’d said “Jabulani” to someone a few months ago they would have assumed you were repeating one of Del Boy’s catchphrases from Only Fools and Horses. Say it to them now and, if they know their football, they’ll probably start swearing. The Jabulani is the name of the ball that Adidas have manufactured for the World Cup and, if the criticism from the players is to be believed, it is about to ruin the tournament.

Jabulani might translate as “to celebrate” in Zulu but no goalkeeper has been throwing a party at the prospect of trying to catch the ball this summer. Tim Howard is the latest keeper to criticise Adidas’ creation, bemoaning the way it flies through the air, and Iker Casillas condemned it as a “beach ball” last week. David James doesn’t like the Jabulani either so he would do well to avoid visiting Loughborough University, where the ball was developed.

The Jabulani is the lightest ball ever at a World Cup. It’s also the roundest and, apparently, the more spherical a ball is the more unstable it is in the air. Although the designers have added grooves to the ball’s panels to give it a truer flight, some observers are predicting a flurry of long-distance goals this summer because of the speed with which the ball can be struck and its uncanny knack of swerving at will. The ball’s behaviour in the air is also said to be exaggerated at altitude, which will be a factor in South Africa.

Even if the ball does lead to a few improbable strikes though, and even if some keepers fall foul of trying to catch crosses, could we all stop moaning please? To listen to the gripes of players, coaches, and pundits is to be given the impression that, should David James strike the Jabulani fiercely enough from a goal kick, the ball will fly off into the African night and escape the gravitational pull of the Earth. It won’t; there might be more goals from distance, players might find it harder to control at first, and passes could be misplaced in the opening games, but that’s it. Come the knockout stages any early issues with the ball will have been forgotten.

The only thing more tiresome than the whinging about the ball is the constant barrage of criticism that is being directed the way of the vuvuzelas, the metre-long plastic trumpets that South African fans blow throughout matches. Xabi Alonso called for them to be banned after the Confederations Cup last year, saying that the incessant rasping of the trumpets drowned out the instructions of his colleagues on the pitch. Television viewers have also complained that the sound of the vuvuzelas makes it impossible to hear what the commentator is saying, while apparently there is a link between prolonged exposure to the noise and hearing damage amongst supporters.

Again, could we all stop moaning? Premier League commentators constantly point out that English grounds are quiet nowadays but the one thing that this World Cup won’t be short of is noise. True, it is an artificial noise rather than the more organic sound that Europeans are used to of fans singing and chanting, but the vuvuzela is as synonymous with South Africa’s fans as the rattle was with Britain’s in the first half of the twentieth century. It is better to have trouble hearing everything that Peter Drury says than to deny the hosts their instrument of choice.

In fact, could a vuvuzela be assigned to Gary Lineker in the event of Alan Shearer saying anything?

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