I don’t think any World Cup has seen a ball so hotly anticipated as the one being used in Russia this summer. If you’ve watched a few games, you know my reference to the fact that it’s a thing of beauty to watch (it is) and feels nice when you trap it (also true). And then there’s that new kid on the block, Al Rihla, which means journey. So yeah, interested in the details and meaning behind the name? Here we go.
Creativity With the Name, Al Rihla
Of all the Arabic and global names, the organizers decided to go for Al Rihla; it depicts what football lovers should expect from the 2022 World Cup. Rihla is an Arabic word for travel books and the name, Al Rihla, means the journey. And this magnificent piece of art has a journey to make across ten cities across the world.
The beginning of this journey was the official unveiling by two World Cup icons, Ricardo Kaka and Iker Casillas, together with top and aspiring Arabic footballers of both genders. Al Rihla is traversing the globe to create a series of purposeful activities.
These activities aim to improve access and equity in the footballing communities. According to Nick Craggs, General Manager – Football, Adidas, they use this opportunity to support local communities with activations skewed to leave lasting footballing impacts at the grassroots levels and beyond.
The ball debuted a specially created pitch on unveiling. The initial match balls used for this special occasion were donated to Challenge F.C, Saud Arabia’s first-ever women’s soccer league champions.
Manufactured in Pakistan
Pakistan is facing a ban from FIFA, denying it a chance to be an official member. But it still has the honor to continue making World Cup balls. Adidas has been the official manufacturer of World Cup balls for the last 14 FIFA World Cups from the 1982 edition. These balls were manufactured in Pakistan except for those used in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. The 2022 official World Cup ball, Al Rihla, is also manufactured in the Asian country.
So why Pakistan? Pakistan is a top manufacturer of sports goods and kits. It has a brilliant reputation for the best quality for all the top sports from rugby, soccer, moto GP to basketball.
When it comes to soccer match balls, Pakistan is second to none due to its famous hand stitching techniques, which add the required quality and value desired at the top levels.
The Environmental Importance
We have seen different match balls, from the ‘Tiento’ and the ‘T-Model’ in the 1930 world cup to the Telstar Mechta used in the 2018 finals in Russia. However, very few of these pieces were made with 100% environmentally friendly materials. Or at least with the environment in mind.
With the talk about climate change and global warming, Adidas had to be creative with the final product. They had to carefully pick environmentally cautious raw materials making Al Rihla the world’s first-ever soccer ball made exclusively with water-based inks and glues.
Water-based inks and glues draw their name because they are completely PVC free. They do not contain lead or heavy metal nor o-zone degrading chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other volatile solvents. Instead, they contain a solvent base consisting of water, making them one of the most environmentally responsible substances on earth.
The company also wanted to reduce waste, so they tried to make the yield in the panels as low as possible. It is essential to note that this yield is way lower than that in the Telstar, an important factor in the sports kits manufacturer’s sustainability efforts.
Al Rihla Boasts an Innovative Design
The Adidas’ 14 edition of the World Cup ball does not disappoint when it comes to design. According to the company’s football graphics and hardwear department design director, the game is evolving into a fast-paced sport, making precision and flight stability very critical.
One of the notable innovations in Al Rihla is the Speedshell textured polyurethane (PU) skin exterior layer with a new 20-piece panel shape and micro and macro textures. With its inclusion, Adidas aims to boost its speed of flight and rotation to sustain perfect shots and excellent aerodynamics.
The ball also features Adidas CRT-CORE, which the company has lately been employing to provide speed, accuracy and consistency without tampering with their ball’s shape and air retention.
Before releasing this ball to the public domain, Adidas took the final piece for a quality test. It did a comprehensive test in the field by players, robotic kicking devices and inside wind tunnels to ensure that panel shapes and the texture lived to the expectation of flight accuracy and reliability.
Another wonder in Al Rihla is the pearlized coating, informed by data and simulations driven by quality testing.
Amazing Color Collections
Besides having one of the best well-thought built ever, Adidas punctuates this with a stunning exterior. The entire concept draws inspiration from Qatar’s culture, architecture, iconic boats and national flag.
Qatar’s architecture particularly inspires the pattern. The country has some of the world’s most amazing buildings with forward-thinking designs, and this is what this ball aims to bring into the world of football.
When it comes to the color selections, the designers wanted to visually project the ball’s speed and nature surrounding the Arab nation. So when you look at this ball, you won’t help but notice every bit of art, from the red and yellow tones that mimic the desert sunset to the amazing blue tones that mimic the oceans at the coast.
The color and graphics are bold and vibrant, reflecting the ever-growing speed of the sport—the colors on the ball change at different times, adding excitement for fans everywhere.
While the main focus of this ball is to produce the best experience for participants come 21st November 2022, Adidas did not forget the community in its entire plan. Al Rihla is the first-ever World Cup match ball in the competition’s 92-year history that will generate funds from its sales proceeds to impact the community positively. It aims to 1% out of its net sales towards the Common Goal Movement.
The Common Goal Movement is a program started by Adidas in 2022, committing itself to bring change to the world through football. The company aims to bring together its past, present and future initiatives to empower football communities and teams globally.
How does the Al Rihla compare to some of the most innovative World Cup balls ever produced?
We have seen several World Cup match balls in the tournament’s long history. However, with the dynamics in innovation and the constant urge to give the best at the grandest stage of all, these masterpieces come in different shapes, colors, designs and purposes.
The Jabulani was famous in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. For better aerodynamics, it featured eight thermal bonded, three-dimensional ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and thermoplastic polyurethane panels.
It also featured four triangular design elements, with eleven colors carefully crafted on its white background.
However, experts did not like the Jabulani ball because of its erratic flight, which caused serious problems for goalkeepers in the 2010 showdown. The ball was too round to journey straight, a factor that isn’t there in Al Rihla.
Adidas Telstar 18
It was a thing of the utmost beauty, with a white base punctuated with a set of black and gray colors. It had a combination of six panels fastened to its 3D textured surface.
But, even before its unveiling, the Adidas Telstar 18 already faced criticism that it would increase the number of goals from long-range shots at goal.
Al Rihla may not be for everyone, but it is certainly a ball that Adidas and FIFA can be proud of. The design is refreshing to the eyes, and the technology is amazing. We don’t know whether it will go down in history as one of the best balls to ever be made, but we do know that this ball will surely generate plenty of interest before the World Cup begins in 2022 and fans will look for a great decentralized sports betting platform to make bets on their favorite teams.