The Adidas World Cup ball has generated intrigue and examination by all walks of life, from the Secret Service right down to the goalkeepers. Here’s why.
The Adidas Telstar 18 hit the FIFA World Cup pitch with little player controversy yet it and its successor created intrigue in sports greatest competition, with the former receiving critique for its inflation.
The complaints weren’t overwhelming in number, but they remained steady enough throughout the contest.
Goalkeepers questioned the ball’s flight. They expressed suspicion for the ball’s handling due to its smooth surface and coating. Once the venting was done, little more was said, at least not immediately, until the trouble started.
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The ball popped twice during France’s game with Australia and again during Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia. In two other incidents, balls lost pressure. It wasn’t for a lack of testing. The balls went through extensive live-play and laboratory exercises. They even got shot from an air cannon. But still, the issues on the biggest stage presided.
Adidas was lucky the company had a Plan B in reserve for the World Cup knockout stage. For the knockout phase, Adidas introduced Plan B – a new version of the ball called the Mechta, meaning dreams or ambitions.
It performed well, and, whether talking about the Telstar 18 or later competition ball, Adidas spokespeople insisted this was the most-tested World Cup ball in history. With those deflation annoyances out of the way, complaints went quiet once more. It came time for attention from the techies.
The balls used in World Cup play carried a data chip – Near-Field Communication (NFC). This high-tech feature proved little more than what a ball could when it’s kicked and handled while carrying a communications chip. The chip did allow interaction with the ball using an NFC-reading smartphone app, but calling up the chip only retrieved the ball’s unique identifier and basic stored information.
In future World Cup’s, Adidas may well add chip features to report and record the ball’s speed, height and more. But, for now, this chip really only announced that it’s there. That still, though, didn’t prevent a little controversy from erupting regarding the high-tech asset.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham piped up after Pres. Donald Trump convened a meeting in Finland. In front of the media, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin presented Trump and First Lady Melania with an Adidas Mechta ball.
Probably not knowing details of the Adidas Mechta, Graham tweeted the ball should get checked for listening devices, and never reach the White House. Soccer bloggers knew the ball contained a chip even before the competition began. They blogged that fact. Political bloggers piled on. Then national political commentators, some of whom barely know a soccer ball from a badminton birdie, joined in.
So the subject came up during a regularly scheduled White House press briefing. The resulting explanation was that the ball got the same Secret Service screening as any other gift. And no further comment.
If you want one of these balls for yourself, you picked the right time. In the beginning, the Adidas online store sold balls for more than $160. If you shop carefully at your favorite national chain sports store – and aren’t picky about getting one with a chip – you can find the replica balls as low as the $20-range. And they won’t trigger a screening process.