jabu ball edit.jpgWhat’s in a ball?


By Albert Chekayi.


Jabulani is a Zulu/Ndebele/Xhosa word which means ‘celebrate’.


It is a befitting name which can be associated with celebrating the coming of the World Cup to Africa for the first time.


Sports kit manufacturers Adidas appear to have got that in mind when they made the official World Cup 2010 match ball which is called Jabulani.


Long when this generation is forgotten, decades or a century later when football followers will talk about the first ever World Cup to be held on African soil.


 Probably two issues will still be dorminating. The vuvuzela and the Jabulani ball.

Forget it that South Africa 2010 will be remembered as the year football’s biggest showpiece came to Africa after 80 years since the inaugural tournament in Uruguay.


Forget about who the winner will be as we all know that such a team will certainly come from the elite club called the ‘Big Seven’ ( Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, England and France).


Is it not incredible that only seven countries have shared this trophy among them in 80 years? Do I hear someone likening these countries to the five permanent members of the United Nations (USA, Russia, Britain, France and China) who have veto powers?


Maybe even more powerful since FIFA has 16 more members than the United Nations!

So powerful is the league of seven that breaking into the elite is a Herculean task. Statistics even buttress this. While it took only four years for a second World Cup winner to come( Italy) after Uruguay won the 1930 edition, it took 20 years for a third winner to come.


That was Germany in 1954 (off course the World Cup was not played in 1942 and 1946 because of the Second World War but nothing could have changed after all as Uruguay came back to reclaim the trophy in 1950).


While Brazil and England came aboard in 1958 and 1966 respectively, it had to take another 20 years for a fifth member of the Big League to come and it came in the name of Argentina in 1978. It took another 20 years for the seventh member of the elite league France to be admitted and sure Les Bleus were welcomed in 1998.

So, simple statistics will show that a country outside the big seven can only win the World Cup in 2018 possibly to be hosted by England.


Away from the powers that be in world football, South Africa 2010 will definitely not be remembered for its winner but the vuvuzela and the Jabulani ball.


While debate has almost been exhausted regarding the vuvuzela, it is the Jabulani ball that has raised interest. A kindergarten kid will innocently ask the simple but forthright question: What is in a soccer ball? But the answer might require professors to answer.


Or fail to answer. It might require legends to answer or also fail to answer. For the debate over a ball is as old as the World Cup competition itself. 

1930 ball edit.jpgThe first ever World Cup final which pitted the host team Uruguay and neighbors Argentina produced fireworks not on the field of play but on the debate over a ball.


Uruguay wanted their own ball to be used while Argentina argued that their ball was more suitable.


The two teams had to come to a compromise and agreed that Argentina’s ball should be used in the first half while Uruguay’s ball was to be used in the second half. Either by coincidence or by design, Argentina using their own ball scored twice to go to the break leading 2-1.


Then the second half came and Uruguay introduced their own ball and scored three times to win 4-2 and become the first team to win the World Cup. What is in a ball?

Eighty years later, the debate over the ball has resurfaced in South Africa. From the blundering England keeper Robert Green to the misfiring England striker Wayne Rooney, the blame is on Jabulani. From the blank- firing French bunch of lazy bones under a clueless coach called “Everybody hates Raymond Domenech” to the powerful for nothing sumo wrestlers called Cameroon, all are blaming Jabulani.


Even the Kangaroos…oops Socceroos who are known more for Rugby and Cricket want the world to believe that if the ball was not Jabulani, then they could have won the World Cup.

Even Fabio Capello in his wisdom or lack of it after leaving out the most talented English player Theo Walcott for his inexperience yet went on to choose a goalkeeper who had played only six games for England ahead of David James who had played over sixty matches, the blame was on a ball called Jabulani.


The Spanish (pity the underachievers) who happen to believe that to score a goal the player has to walk it into the nets, predictably failed to score and the blame was on the Jabulani ball.

But how did Germany hit four goals past Australia? How did Uruguay score three past South Africa with the same ball? How did the Samba Boys beautifully play the same ball and hit three past Didier Drogba’s Cote D’lvoire? And how did Argentina fire four past South Korea? Maybe the Jabulani ball has something wrong but how does Lionel Messi play it as if it sticks to his boots? What is in a ball?

Can a different ball give the shepherdless France self belief? Can a different ball bring back inspiration to a tired England? Can another ball teach the Nigerians that matches are not won by big names and sitting talent but by hard work on the field of play? No, Nigerian ghetto lingua followers will tell you ‘a ball-is-a-ball, Jabulani or no Jabulani’

As we watch African tears drenching Samuel Etoo’s cheeks. As we mourn South Africa’s demise (maybe with the old legend Mopo’s Zulu song of sorrow…..’ Mourn children of Macedama, mourn with the whole world.


Drink the water of tears covering yourself with the dust of sorrow, because the ndlovukazi is no more’)-yes as we mourn with those who mourn (thank you King Solomon for wisdom), let us not blame the innocent Jabulani. By the way, not Jabulani the person but the ball (in all this one might be mistaken that Jabulani is a man-what after all the blame!). 

Long after most people in our generation are gone. And probably I and some few are left. A kindergarten kid will want to probe me. What was the fuss about the 2010 World Cup Jabulani ball? I will ask ‘What’s in a ball my great grand son?’  He will say ‘Grandpa, you can’t answer a question with another question”. 


I will tell him that professors tried to find an answer and Scientists tested and retested the Jabulani ball. But in my little wisdom I will answer the child, ‘No leave poor Jabulani alone, a bad workman always blames his tools!’