After seeing kids in poor and war-torn countries forgetting about their daily lives by playing football with balls made of trash, Tim Jahnigen dedicated his life to creating an indestructible ball that wouldn’t deflate in the hardest of conditions.
It’s called the One World Football and it can take any amount of punishment, from being run over by a car to being punctured with a knife, without deflating. Jahringen, from Berley, California, got the idea for this incredible football in 2006, after watching a documentary about children in Darfur who found refuge from their daily plight by playing with balls made of garbage of string, because regular balls donated by relief forces and sporting goods companies ripped and deflated within 24 hours, on the rocky terrain that doubled as a football field. Still, kids took so much pleasure in kicking a ball around that they played with just about anything that even resembled a football. In the next two years he searched for a material that could be morphed into a ball that wouldn’t wear out, go flat or need to be inflated. Many of the engineers he spoke with questioned his idea, but Tim eventually found what he was looking for. It’s called PopFoam, a type of hard foam made of ethylene-vinyl acetate, a material similar to what the popular Crocs shoes are made of.
Photo by Ngueuliebou Frederic
Discovering PopFoam was indeed a breakthrough, but figuring out how to shape it into a football was going to be an even bigger challenge. His money was tied up in another business, so he could provide the financial resources himself, but luckily Fate smiled upon him once again. He was having breakfast with music legend Sting, whom he knew from his days in the music industry, and he brought up his big idea. He told him how something as simple as a football could bring so much joy to the kids of Darfur, and about his effort to create an indestructible ball. Sting told him to drop everything and make it happen, and that he would gladly pay the estimate $300,000 necessary to create a prototype.
Photo by Helmut Schleppi
The first ever One World Football (named after one of Sting’s songs from his days with Police) took about a year to create at just one-tenth of the estimated cost. Jahringen then took his creations to be tested in Africa. His indestructible balls were used at a camp for ex child soldiers, in Rwanda, at a Johannesburg zoo where a lion that would go through six regular balls a day played with two foam balls, and given to a German Sheppard to play with for an entire year. In all cases the One World Footballs took the abuse without suffering any major damage. Tim even stabs and drives over them with his car in order to convince potential sponsors and backers of the efficiency of his invention, and every time they bounce back to their original shape.
Photo: Sustainable Brands
Now Tim Jahringen has created the fifth generation of One World Footballs, which are much rounder than the previous versions and are estimated to last for 30 years. He has so far produced 50,000 balls, most of which have sold for $40. For each one sold, another is donated, and with organisations carrying it to various countries around the world, word about the indestructible football has spread. General Motors has promised to buy 1,5 million One World Footballs in the next 3 years and donate them to needy children, and UNICEF has already bought over 5,000 of them at $17 each. Still the cost of this wonder ball is a problem. “In our experience, there is sure a demand for longer-lasting footballs, compared to the $2.50 we pay for a regular football, the current cost difference for the more durable solution is currently too high,” said Shanelle Hall, director of UNICEF’s supply division in Copenhagen, Denmark, which buys about 30,000 balls a year.
But the cost may go down as production increases, and Jahringen is already struggling to keep up with demand. Workers at a factory in Taiwan, where the One World Football is produced, have had to work double shifts in order to meet the target of 45,000 balls a month. Two containers of balls are shipped to various countries around Africa and Asia every week, and bringing joy to millions of children to whom this simple round object is more fun than any smartphone or video-game console.