As Khawaja Akhtar sat watching the 2006 World Cup, which was held in Germany, he felt that he was part of something bigger than himself. It was a good feeling — a new feeling, he told Reuters — and he decided that he wanted to replicate it for others.
When Adidas' Chinese supplier for this summer's World Cup soccer balls failed to keep up with demand, Akhtar saw his chance. The factory owner reached out to Adidas executives, inviting them to tour his plant in eastern Pakistan. Having made soccer balls for plenty of large tournaments before, such as the UEFA Champions League, Akhtar knew how competitive landing such a contract would be. The executives critiqued his "Stone Age equipment," and gave Akhtar a month to bring his production line up to snuff.
Usually, such a process can take the better part of a year, but Akhtar pulled off the impossible, designing, building, and moving the new equipment into his factory in just 33 days. Read the full story of Akhtar's unique accomplishment over at Reuters, and take a look at his factory employees creating the official soccer balls, below.
A machine applies adhesive to the edges of the panels, which will be placed on the soccer balls using thermal bonding technology As Reuters notes: "Only thermally bonded balls — made using a glue that reacts with heat — are round enough for the World Cup's strict standards." | (REUTERS/Sara Farid)
Employees work with the adhesive panels in the production area. Akhtar's business, called Forward, began with 50 employees, but has grown to nearly 1,400 workers in the past 40 years. Nearly a quarter are women, which is unusual for Pakistan. | (REUTERS/Sara Farid)
Hair dryers direct hot air toward outer panels placed on the balls. | (REUTERS/Sara Farid)
Employees adjust the outer panels. | (REUTERS/Sara Farid)
Workers conduct a final check, looking for any cavities in the seams of the balls. While many foreign companies come to Sialkot, the Pakistani town known for its top-notch leatherwork, to negotiate soccer ball contracts with the local factories, the country itself ranks 159th in the world in the sport. | (REUTERS/Sara Farid)
Employees conducting final checks. | (REUTERS/Sara Farid)
A worker rolls finished balls out of the production area. | (REUTERS/Sara Farid)
The finished soccer balls, known as "Brazucas," are displayed. The World Cup kicks off in Brazil on June 12, and Akhtar's employees said they plan to invite neighbors to watch the games on television and see what they have produced in action. | (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)