Smarter people than us have not yet figured out world peace and world hunger, but it's possible that a child who we give a ball to will.
In some ways, you don’t actually need a soccer ball to play soccer. You just need something you can tolerate kicking for a sustained period of time, and you’re playing, kind of. You’ve seen the pictures. Kids playing soccer on gravel-and-dirt fields in Africa and glass-sprinkled back alleys in South America with bigger rocks, rolled-up socks, crumpled-up juice boxes, and whatever other depressingly-ingenious, kind-of-round things they can find. Those things don’t cost any money, and maybe more importantly, they can’t lose air. But still, they’re not balls. With the featured ball at the 2010 World Cup being “the roundest ball ever,” the most “ball” ball ever—and also the worst World Cup ball ever, which probably says something, too—there’s at least some suggestion that, in fact, a ball is a requirement for the sport to be expanded and therefore enjoyed as much as it can be. (Note: sports are meant to be enjoyed, Internet.)
That’s where the One World Futbol Project comes in. Founded by Tim Jahnigen, the foundation has created a nearly-indestructible soccer ball that never needs air—and they’re distributing it throughout the world. When someone buys the ball—it’s available to all individuals, companies, and non-profits—a second ball is then donated to an area-in-need. While it’s not the roundest ball the world has ever seen, it’s seemingly the toughest, and it is still round. More than that, it’s a ball, something a lot of these kids, who play soccer almost every day, have never had. We caught up with Jahnigen to figure how all of this is actually possible.
How'd you come up with the idea and make it a reality? A financially-reasonable, completely-indestructible, not-cement soccer ball sounds like something only aliens could make.
The short answer is while in a state of jetlag and exhaustion, laying on the couch watching the news one day, I saw a piece about the plight of children in Darfur. Besides explaining the growing recognition of how critically important play is, it showed that these deeply traumatized children had nothing to play with but wads of trash, bottles, cans and, in some cases, just rocks to kick around because the harsh conditions they lived in could destroy a conventional, inflated ball often in as little as an hour.
The long answer would take too long, but let's just say that in that moment I had a visceral, non-intellectual response, and in a Big Bang-like moment, the understanding of the problem and the solution for it came all at once, and I knew this was something I had to do. But there's much more to it than just having the thought. There are a lot of people who, once they heard this idea, were so taken with it that they used their own innate gifts, skill and generosity to make the One World Futbol the powerful tool it has become for helping children, youth, adults and communities in challenging places all over the world.
How is it compared to your regular, FIFA-approved soccer ball?
We're now in our fifth generation of improvements of the ball, so in technical terms it's almost a virtual analog of a low-bounce street ball. However, four out of five of the criteria for getting a FIFA approval have to do with pressure retention, water absorption, valve wear and the like. Because our ball never needs a pump, never goes flat even if punctured, doesn't absorb water and more, a whole new category would have to be made, which is unlikely since we make the only ball of it's kind.
Conventional soccer balls are only designed for the ideal conditions of a groomed grass or turf field. They are perfect for competition and optimized for the elite form of the game. They are utterly vulnerable to scrapes, cuts and punctures anywhere else. The One World Futbol picks up where all others leave off. It is optimized for the conditions that the vast majority of the world's population lives in. Even our roughest, most primitive first prototypes were infinitely better than wads of trash, bottles, cans or rocks. That's the "market" or "demographic" we're serving.
What kind of tests have the balls undergone, giving you license to use the "indestructible" term?
One World Futbols have been bounced off of barbed wire, driven over, run over with riding lawn mowers that tore out pieces, stabbed with knives, chewed by dogs—some for over a year—and even survived being mauled by a lion for almost two years and still shown they're ready to play for years more.
Why soccer? Is it the sport you could most positively affect needy children with?
Great question, "Why soccer?" Though soccer is not yet fully mainstream in the U.S., it is, in fact, the most played sport for people under 30 in the U.S.—and the most popular sport in the world. The nuances and passion for the sport still elude most Americans. However, beyond our borders, there is a world that is every bit as passionate, wildly loyal and utterly consumed with soccer as American fans of baseball or American football. But on a scale that’s almost unimaginable.