With more than 250 million players spanning the globe, soccer (or football as it’s known outside the U.S.) is without question the world’s most popular sport. It’s also one of the oldest—the game can be traced back to several ancient cultures, including “football” games more than 3,000 years ago in China.
Today’s die-hard soccer fans were eagerly awaiting “the kick-off heard ‘round the world” when the World Cup™ final competition began in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 11.
Aside from superstars, red cards, penalty kicks and fake dives, fans saw… a lot of plastic. In fact, plastics play many important roles in the modern soccer game.
Shin guards are one of the few pieces of protective gear that players are allowed to wear on the soccer field. Players formerly relied on extra pairs of socks, shin guards with wooden slats or nothing at all, but today plastic shin guards rule the game. The latest innovation? Plastic guards that incorporate air cells to help protect players’ legs from errant cleats and soccer balls that reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour.
Modern plastics have transformed soccer uniforms and gloves. Players and referees alike wear durable, tear- and fade-resistant uniforms that often are made from polyester (a plastic fiber). This year, the USA team and many other teams wore jerseys made from recycled plastic bottles – and fans also can purchase these jerseys.
And just imagine goalies attempting to block a screaming penalty shot without the innovative gloves that allow for a better grip on the ball, even when it’s wet and slippery. The palms of the gloves often are padded with latex foam that helps absorb the impact from the ball so that the goalie can hang on
Cleats (or Boots)
Without soccer cleats (or boots as they often are called), even the best player would have a tough time maintaining traction on the field. Plastic-based boots are water resistant, durable and easy to clean and care for. And today’s high-tech boots often are made from combinations of advanced plastics that can help improve performance while dramatically reducing weight. For example, adidas® recently introduced the F50 Adizero® , what it claims are the world’s lightest soccer boots, weighing in at a miserly 5.6 ounces. Inspired by cycle racing shoes, the boots’ ultra-light, plastic microfiber upper is attached to a thin, sleek plastic sole, doing away with the stiff, heavy insole of others boots.
Even the soccer ball has gone high tech—and plastic. For example, adidas’ Jabulani® (named after the Zulu word for celebration) is made of plastic foam and panels plus a plastic cover that provide exceptional cushioning, durability and feel, to help players achieve maximum control.
High-tech, soft and durable plastic turf has enabled soccer players to play year-round, even in nasty weather. The most common synthetic turf used in international soccer play is a blend of grass-like, plastic fibers. This plastic turf can conserve water and requires less maintenance than grass. It also reduces irrigation runoff and eliminates green waste such as lawn clippings.
Professional soccer goal netting often is constructed of high-tenacity polypropylene, similar to mountain climbing rope, that provides tremendous strength and lasts a very long time.
Fans watched the action sitting on the “FRITZ dein Sitz,” a comfy seat cushion from BASF made with expanded polystyrene (plastic) foam. And get this—flip it over and it doubles as a beverage tray!
The Host Country
Ready to make some noise? 2010 was the year of the “vuvuzela”—a plastic horn that is hugely popular among South African soccer fans. Originally made from the kudu antelope horn, today’s plastic versions have become an emblem of hope and unity for many South Africans.