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Twenty years ago, Faqeer Hussain took pride in his work, starry eyed that the balls he hand-stitched in a grubby backroom in Pakistan were destined for the world's greatest players.
Gracing the pitch of World Cups in glamorous Western cities, Hussain saw beyond the grind of his job and dreamed of the beautiful game, and the players he admired but could never hope to meet.
A decade ago, 70 per cent of the world's soccer balls were made in the Pakistan's Sialkot town, but footballs that Hussain stitches from leather panels today will be off the arena at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Outrage in the West over child labour and the onset of machine-made balls meant that the five million balls, suppliers are readying for South Africa, will be for training and promotional use only.
“I used to take a lot of pride in stitching soccer balls, because the world's best players would play with it but now it's only my job,” said Hussain, 58. As with countless other industries built on labour in developing countries, workers like him are at the bottom of the food chain.
He says he gets the equivalent of 80 cents a ball, sold for $10 (Rs. 840) to international retailers who in turn make four times the profit. Sialkot gained international celebrity status when it produced the “Tango” ball for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, kicking off a lucrative industry.
Switzerland team was in danger of going into battle in South Africa on empty stomachs after its head cook suffered a broken hand in training in the kitchen.
Thankfully for Ottmar Hitzfeld's squad, Emil Bolli, whose cuisine adds a Mediterranean touch to hearty traditional Swiss fare, was given the all clear.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona held his first training session with his World Cup squad on Thursday, and said he had high hopes on the team.
“Our World Cup starts today because we start work with 17 players. We have high hopes,” said Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.
The Cameroon national team on Thursday arrived in Austria for a training camp. The team and coach Paul Le Guen touched down in the southeastern city of Klagenfurt and headed immediately for Lienz, where they will be based until May 28. When in Austria, Cameroon will play two friendlies, against Georgia on May 25 in Lienz and then fellow World Cup qualifiers Slovakia in Klagenfurt four days later. — Agencies
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