$351 million made Adidas the sole supplier of everything World Cup 2010 from referee uniforms to match balls. At the end of the last World Cup qualifier Adidas showed off its newest FIFA-blessed creation, the “Jabulani,” which means “to celebrate” in isiZulu, the language spoken by 25% of the people of host nation South Africa. Weighing in at the required less-than-half-a-kilo and with a waist of less than 70 centimeters, this ball has 11 colors that represent everything from the 11 players on each team to the 11 official languages and 11 tribes of South Africa. Neat stuff, but not a complete branding-meets-metaphor marketing victory. I’m sure they tried to make a ball with 11 panels, I’m sure there were a lot of long nights spent in wind tunnels, but they had to settle on eight.
During the 2006 games, goalkeepers complained that the 14-panel ball was difficult to handle and when hit hard and flat and with Wagnerian aggression, “Teamgeist” would unpredictably swerve like a rich kid screaming scatological curses for being forced to eat the slightest frustration. Adidas claims to have countered this with its “revolutionary” “Grip’n’Groove” technology, (think goose-bumps), and top-level, Adidas sponsored goalkeepers agree.
The “Jabulani” is, in other words, the complete ball. Or more to the point, it is the ball that is as complete a ball as any ball that can be made given the technology/fiscal nexus of sport at the highest level. It also represents the unification of a nation. It is also more true in flight than a skull. Wish it well.