LAHORE - Sialkot is catering to around 70% of total world demand of hand stitched inflatable balls, which translate into around 40 million balls annually by providing direct employment facility to over 200,000 individuals.

Total exports of Sports Goods during Calendar year 2014 were US$ 260 million with inflatable balls worth US$ 211 million and the major export destinations are Germany with 14%, UK 10%, USA 8% and Netherlands with 7% of the total exports.

Sports goods sector, coupled with multiple challenges, was facing the major threat in the form of “Mechanized inflatable ball”, which uses medium end technology to produce a ball having most of the characteristics of hand stitched ball. This new ball has been tested and played in a number of international football tournaments including UEFA EURO 2004. While, an improved version of this ball was used in the FIFA World cup held in 2006.

The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) has saved the local football industry from losing its share in the international market by establishing a Sports Industries Development Center (SIDC) at Sialkot with the support of federal government that provided Rs.436 million to execute the project.

It was informed by SMEDA officials at a reception hosted in honor of the Lahore Economic Journalists Association (LEJA). The briefing given on this occasion was shared by Mr. Qaiser Iqbal Baryar, Chairman Board of Management of SIDC, Mr. Hassanien Javed, Provincial Chief SMEDA, Sheikh Jahangir Iqbal, Member Board, Mr. Waseem Lodhi and Mr. Sarwar Hanif, Project Director. Whereas, the LEJA delegation was led by its President Mr. Muhammad Riaz Chaudhry.

SMEDA, during its interaction with the sports sector stakeholders, chamber and other relevant institutions, identified the problem requirement and developed a project that would provide a long term solution that has a potential to be a game changer for the local industry. As a standard proactive for development interventions, SMEDA joined hands with Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, sports industry stakeholders, and other development partners and after extensive consultations, research, review of best practices and comparison of available technology options, proposal was initiated for seeking government funding for establishment of a common facility for production of mechanized ball so that Pakistan remains competitive in the world sports market.

SMEDA officials said, SIDC is a core initiative in the strategy of infusing Mechanized inflatable ball technology in the local industry. This centre presumed to provides technical know how, trained labor force, prototype development, mold making services, IPR facilitation and manufacturing of mechanized inflatable balls for SMEs so that the sector embraces the new technology with minimal hiccups and maintains its present share in international trade of inflatable balls. The installed capacity of the center, on single shift basis, is 1000,000 balls per year on a single shift basis. However, it may be enhanced in two shifts depending on the need.

The center has started trial operation as a common facility where local manufacturers / exporters have started bringing their material and using the available machinery to produce high quality products. SMEDA officials informed that the center will be able to create around 12,600 jobs as a result of its services over a period of 10 years.

Since the center possesses high end machinery and equipment that is not locally available to the SMEs, the workers and technicians of the SMEs will be trained for production of high quality mechanized balls. The project is also in the process of engaging foreign experts for training of the local industry.

SMEDA Officials pointed out that SIDC had achieved the quality production of lower weight bladders and complete the orders of lower weight bladders of different parties as per requirement. It has reached the production capacity up to 71.0 % from 120 gram to 230 gram weight per bladder. Still technology for production of Butyl bladders is needed and under trial. However, the center has produced 300,000 bladders till date assisting in generation of export revenue of Rs. 240 million.

It is encouraging that the Project has started trial production of various types of balls in coordination with the local industry and has so far produced more than 20,000 balls for the private sector. More than 20 private companies are engaged with SIDC for their export related production requirements. The project is also striving hard for development of FIFA standard thermo balls for the foreign markets. Establishment of Product Development Center for Composites Based Sports Goods is also under consideration and requisite land is already available with SIDC.