Testing Time for Football
It is all about 22 men kicking a ball ... but what kind of ball? Football has to keep pace with modern technology and the game at its highest level deserves nothing but the best. With the support of the sporting goods industry, FIFA has set out to ensure that the balls used in top matches meet the most exacting standards. It will mean a general upgrading of standards of footballs throughout the world.
Since the start of the FIFA Denominations Programme last year, nearly 70 models of football have been awarded the "FIFA Inspected" designation and a further 40 have earned the right to use the higher "FIFA Approved" seal of approval.
Testing procedures for the balls submitted for these designations are designed to simulate match conditions. Manufacturers have to submit seven balls if they are applying for "FIFA Inspected" status, and ten samples if they seek the "FIFA Approved" label. All these are put through their paces at EMPA, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research in St.Gallen.
There is another qualification level, too, less demanding than the others. This is the designation "International Matchball Standard", and for this the applicant footballs can be sent to any of seven European test institutes which have been selected by FIFA to test and certify the balls for this category, which is free of any royalty fees.
There are a total of seven tests. All footballs are submitted for the first six and only potential "FIFA Approved" candidate for the seventh test, which is a shooting test for shape and size retention, including change of pressure.
However, the criteria for "FIFA Approved" footballs are higher throughout. For example, 25% loss of pressure is acceptable for a "FIFA Inspected" applicant, but only 20% for a "FIFA Approved" ball.
- Circumference: The first test - for circumference - requires the first three footballs to be conditioned for at least 24 hours. They are then inflated to a defined pressure and the diameter of the ball is measured in ten exactly defined points. The test is designed to ensure a well-balanced response in play.
- Sphericity: The second test is for sphericity, which ensures the ball's inflight stability. The apparatus used is the same as that used for determining the circumference. The conditioned balls are inflated to a test pressure of 1.0 bar and the diameter of the ball is measured at the middle of the 16 panels, with a high degree of accuracy. The difference between the highest and lowest diameter is determined as a percentage of the mean diameter. The mean difference in the highest and lowest diameter of the three footballs in recorded in the test report.
- Rebound: This is important too, to make sure that the ball bounces in a predictable manner, vital in top class matches. The football is dropped, in guided free fall and with a defined velocity, onto a steel surface. With the help of a video camera, the height of rebound at the lower side of the ball can be determined.
- Water absorption: It is important that a football does not become too heavy in the wet. The conditioned footballs are placed in a receptacle filled with 2 cm of water. After being compressed a number of times, with a pneumatic position to simulate playing conditions, the ball is removed, wiped dry and reweighed. Its increase in weight is expressed as a percent of the original weight of the ball, defining precisely the amount of water that has been absorbed.
- Weight: Weight is vital, because it ensures a consistent playing response when the ball is struck. Football samples are inflated and weighed in a standard atmosphere, with a wind protected electronic balance. The mean weight as well as the single values of the three fallouts are recorded in the report.
- Loss of Pressure: The football should not lose pressure over time, thereby remaining playable. The balls are inflated to a defined pressure, then left in a standard atmosphere for a certain period of time, after which the pressure is measured again.
- Shape and Size Retention ("FIFA Approved" only): This test is designed to ensure that the footballs last, even in the most challenging situations. The footballs are inflated to a defined pressure. Two rotating cylinders accelerate the balls to a specific velocity, so that they hit a steel panel at a consistent speed and angle. The footballs are examined after 2000 shots and the increase in circumference and deviations on sphericity are measured. The testing procedures and designations offer many benefits to those who buy footballs including guaranteed quality, value for money and better playing performance.
The target audience includes all the national associations and confederations, the sporting goods industry, sports retailers throughout the world, 700,000 referees and some hundreds of millions of players. Anyone, in fact, who might have cause to buy a football.
A key element of the marketing support programme is an eight minute educational video, which shows how the testing is carried out. The video has been distributed to all the national associations and licensees as well as to selected sports journalists. Each licensee has received a master copy, which they can personalise and use as they wish at exhibitions and in sales presentations.
Media support has kicked off with an advertising campaign in 18 leading trade publications for the sporting goods industry, featuring the headlines "Score more business with FIFA's new marking system" and "Improved ball control, more scoring chances," point out that FIFA and the industry are "working as a team for the benefit of the game".
It is vitally important that the sporting goods industry, their retailers and the football authorities understand why FIFA is undertaking this testing programme. It introduces recognised standards, but it is not compulsory. Manufacturers who do not want to pay a royalty have the option of using the "International-Matchball-Standard" designation which is technically equal to the "FIFA Inspected" category.
And it brings order into the use of the FIFA mark and designations, making them stand for something that is clearly defined.
Referees of FIFA and Confederation matches will be among the beneficiaries. They will simply have to check that the ball carries one of the three marks and that the pressure is correct, rather than having to check weight, circumference and other details before matches.
The testing criteria are indeed tough, but they have been set by the industry itself. Only the best products pass the test, which means that the new standards are worthwhile. Licensees include most of the major leading brands and also manufacturers from India, China, Thailand and Japan, showing that the value put on the FIFA mark is an universal as football itself.