We are just one day away from the start of FIFA World Cup 2018 — the biggest carnival of football. While the fans have their schedule sorted for the grand tournament, the scientists will be probing all facets of the game for insights into disciplines as divergent as aerodynamics, psychology and the human physique. The one thing that fascinates the football fans in every world cup is the official ball. Every four years there is a chatter about the ball which Adidas has designed since 1970.
This year, Telstar 18 will be the official ball and has already been criticised by some goalkeepers for being too flighty and hard to grip. The scientists, however, are of the opinion that it is actually more stable that Jabulani — the much-denigrated official ball for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The ball comes as a nostalgic tribute from FIFA to ‘Telstar’ – Adidas’ first-ever World Cup ball used in Mexico for the 1970 World Cup. This was also the first black and white sphere made for a World Cup and was designed for better visibility on monochrome TV screens. The latest offering is white, black and grey, with gold lettering.
Telstar takes its inspiration from the 1962 Telstar satellite which is still there even after finishing that job it was originally intended to do: serve as the world’s first communication satellite, instantly making the world feel connected by truly space-age technology. The satellite was a result of a joint venture between NASA and Bell Telephone Laboratories (now AT&T).
The Telstar satellite was put out of action because of the Cold War, specifically the radiation from nuclear bombs tested by both the US and the USSR.
The ball-design for this year’s @FIFAWorldCup is called the @adidas “Telstar 18”. Nice. Telstar: World’s first communication satellite, launched in 1962 by @NASA for @ATT Bell Labs. Dead but still up there, inspiring spheres the world over. pic.twitter.com/Kjf6LNnHYb
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) June 3, 2018
The Telstar 18 comes with the latest communication technology. It sports an NFC chip embedded into the ball, and there’s even a little Wi-Fi symbol on it calling attention to the tech inside. This isn’t the first time when Addidas has used a technology like this.
It used a similar technology with its miCoach Smart Ball, which was designed to help coaches monitor performance. This time, however, the technology won’t be measuring things like power of the shot or speed of the ball but offers information about the World Cup, and will allow users to enter a variety of competitions.
The researchers have found that Telstar experiences more “drag” or resistance as it flies through the air when compared to Brazuca — its predecessor used in Brazil in 2014. This means that Telstar 18 will travel shorter distances — about eight to ten per cent less than Brazuca — when kicked at high impact speeds of more than 90 kilometres (56 miles) per hour.
This comes as a bad news for the strikers as they will have to generate more power for the ball to reach a great distance but will help the goalkeepers as the ball will reach them slower than Brazuca did in 2014.
Like Brazuca, Telstar 18 has six panels, compared to Jabulani’s eight — far fewer than the traditional 32-panel recipe long followed. However, these panels are shaped differently and the seam that holds them together is 30 per cent longer in total than Brazuca’s, though also narrower and more shallow.
FIFA would be hoping that the experiment pays off as it has faced backlash on last few occassions. In 2002, it had introduced Fevernova as a lighter ball and had pitched it as ‘the most precise ball ever made’. As it turned out, it was one of the bounciest.
The Jabulani in 2010, on the other hand, became the talking point of the tournament with players such as Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas hating the ball because of the unpredictable way in which it moved through the air, while strikers seemed to like hitting the thing.