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By Mutwiri Mutota

In the history of mankind, humans have been known to kick round objects now known as balls in total enjoyment.

Centuries after South American Indians, the first acknowledged users of an elastic ball kicked about the round object in pleasure, football or soccer as the game they engaged in evolved to be known, is the most popular sport on the planet.

It’s biggest event, the World Cup, that will be held in South Africa next year, is the second largest sporting carnival on earth after the Olympics, though it’s known to attract as many viewers as the quadrennial carnival last held in Beijing last year. According to historical references and legends, early balls ranged from human heads, stitched up cloth, animal and human skulls to pig or cow bladders.

During the Ts’in and Han Dynasties (255 BC-220 AD), the Chinese played ‘tsu chu’, in which animal-skin balls were dribbled through gaps in a net stretched between two poles. Historians say certain ancient Egyptian rites have similarities with football, and both ancient Greeks and Romans played a game that entailed carrying and kicking a ball.

Vulcanized Rubber

In 1836, Charles Goodyear patented vulcanised rubber. Prior to this, balls were dependant on the size and shape of the pig’s bladder that was widely used as the choice material to make them.

Goodyear designed and built the first vulcanised rubber football in 1855. In the 1862, H J Lindon developed one of the first inflatable rubber bladders for balls. The balls with the rubber bladders ensured that it remained hard and oval. Lindon also claimed to have invented the rugby ball but did not patent the idea.

Laws of the game

In 1863, the newly-formed English Football Association met to hammer out the laws of the game.

No description of the ball was offered in the first set of rules. When the rules were revised in 1872, it was agreed the ball "must be spherical with a circumference of 27 to 28 inches" (68.6 cm to 71.1 cm).

That rule remains in today’s Fifa laws. In the past decade, developments in the design of footballs are continuing. Many companies have come up with high-tech materials and designs.

The object is to develop the optimum football that is flight accurate, water proof, fast in flight and transfers all of your kicking force to the ball (does not absorb energy), has soft feel, and is safe to head the ball. Optimum footballs should also adhere to ball specifications given by governing bodies such as Fifa.

New balls such as Adidas’ Roteiro, Finale and Fevernova, Nike’s Geo Merlin, Spalding’s Infusion, Puma’s Shudah, and Mitre’s ISO use the latest design innovations and high-tech materials. ;

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