From the shiny brown ball used at the first FIFA World Cup in 1930, going through the legendary Telstar in 1970, the much-improved Jabulani in 2010 through the Telstar 18 four years ago, the ball itself has become paramount to the game, a true icon, which is revered and becomes an instant hit for the collectors after the tournament.
On one hand, it looks simple. How difficult would it be to create a simple ball, that is kicked on a court by 22 players? But on the other hand, there are plans to improve the most important thing on the pitch, the ball, in all areas on a tournament-by-tournament basis.
With the development of technology, adidas, the long-term partner of FIFA, has focused on improvements like the materials used, the ball’s aerodynamic path, but also with an extra layer added over the last tournament, the technological one, which enables new features on the ball.
The “Al Rihla” will be the ball used for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, an Arabic name which is simply translated by “The Journey” in English. It has been revealed as the official ball of the competition in March 2022 and it will be the 14th consecutive time the German producer has produced the ball for the FIFA World Cup.
According to the official website of FIFA, “Al Rihla” is inspired by the culture, architecture, iconic boats, and flag of Qatar. The bold, vibrant colours set on a pearlescent background represent the FIFA World Cup host country and the ever-increasing speed of the game.
It has several features embedded, like the CRT-core, the heart of the ball, which is providing speed, accuracy, and consistency, and the Speedshell, a textured PU skin, with a new 20-piece panel shape, improving the accuracy, flight stability, and swerve thanks to macro and microtextures, plus surface debossing.
Designed from the inside out using data and rigorous testing at Adidas labs, in wind tunnels, and on the pitch by football players themselves, “Al Rihla” provides the highest levels of accuracy and reliability on the field of play, partly due to its new panel shape and surface textures.
“Al Rihla” will also become the first ball in the history of the World Cup that will help raise money for projects that will improve people’s lives all around the world. One percent of the ball’s net sales will go to the Common Goal movement.
New technology embedded in the core of the ball
But the most critical development has not been in the design or the aerodynamic aspect, rather than the technology embedded inside the ball.
In a video released by FIFA, the new technology that “lives” inside the ball has been presented. Known as the “connected ball technology”, it will be used to enhance the VAR system, providing an unprecedented level of data and information to match officials for making faster and more accurate decisions in crunch moments.
Therefore, the “Al Rihla” will not only be better for players but will also improve the game in itself and for the fans, erasing plenty of moments in which the most important moments of the match will be decided.
Using artificial intelligence and combined with player position data, this technology will also contribute to FIFA’s semi-automated offside technology, which has been already deployed in the UEFA Champions League, and offers Video Assistant Referees instantaneous information to help optimize decision making.
The core of the ball is formed by a new Adidas Suspension System that stabilizes a 500Hz inertial measurement unit (IMU) motion sensor, which provides unprecedented insight into every element of the movement of the ball. This technology is unnoticeable for players and not affecting their performance. The sensor is powered by a rechargeable battery, which can be charged by induction.
“This is a stunning, sustainable, and high-quality Official Match Ball from Adidas that will be enjoyed by stars performing at the top of their game on the world’s biggest stage in Qatar, as well as grassroots players everywhere.”
“Al Rihla’s worldwide journey will represent the incredible reach of the FIFA World Cup and give fans a unique opportunity to engage with the event as excitement builds ahead of the big kick-off,” said Jean-François Pathy, FIFA’s Director of Marketing, according to the official website of the competition.