Bay Area couple produce durable soccer ball
The image is still so clear for Tim Jahnigen: a documentary of
Darfur refugees playing a makeshift soccer game with their ratty
ball of trash and twine.
That scene could be from other poverty-stricken nations across
the world, too. Jahnigen envisioned a durable ball that would
“It’s been four or five years ago when I saw the documentary
and it just triggered a very emotional response,” Jahnigen said.
“I hate to see children suffer. All of a sudden when I saw these
children kicking rag balls, cans and boxes in the videos, it hit me
like a thunderbolt.”
And there began the One World Futbol Project.
Jahnigen put his mind to inventing a ball that would never wear
out, one he insists is the most durable of any “futbol” out
there, made of closed cell foam and similar material to those
popular rubber Crocs sandals. It won’t go flat or ever need
pumping, even remaining playable if punctured – Jahnigen knows
because he took a knife to one during testing and it survived – and
will withstand the rigors of the world’s harshest environments.
No pumps or needles necessary. Give it a good squeeze and you’ll
hear air leaving the ball only to see it inflate itself again.
Sharp rocks, barbed wire, extreme heat or cold don’t affect this
ball. It is designed to get use on gravel or concrete with no
On Monday at the Johannesburg Zoo, the ball was thrown into a
lion’s pen. The cat played with the ball to the point of exhausting
itself, something zoo officials had never seen considering a
typical ball would last mere minutes.
While there were a few visible teeth marks afterward, the ball
otherwise remained intact.
“From that alone I can say it’s the world’s most durable
ball,” Jahnigen said.
The project will formally launch Thursday, at
www.oneworldfutbol.com, just in time for the closing days of the
World Cup in South Africa. The championship game is Sunday at
Soccer City in Johannesburg.
“The world’s attention is on soccer right now with the World
Cup,” said Jahnigen’s wife and project co-founder, Lisa Tarver.
“There were times we weren’t sure we’d get done for the World
Jahnigen has been in South Africa meeting with soccer and
nonprofit officials to publicize the ball and its benefits not only
on the field but for the needy. Some balls are already being used
The One World ball sells for $39.50, and that includes the
purchase of a second ball to be donated through the “Buy One, Give
One” humanitarian model of the project. This is a for-profit
company with a nonprofit foundation.
The goal: give away one million balls in three years, beginning
where they are most needed, such as in war-ravaged nations like
Iraq and Afghanistan, refugee camps around the globe or inner-city
locations right at home in the United States.
“Anyone who wants to play soccer should have the opportunity
to,” Tarver said. “That’s our mission.”
This invention, Jahnigen hopes, will allow users to keep the
same ball and pass it down to the next generation.
“To give a ball to every child who needs one,” Jahnigen said.
“This ball could last from childhood to adulthood and we hope the
children we give this ball to in these challenged places will be
able to play with their children’s children.”
It was with a large initial financial contribution from singer
Sting that this project went from Jahnigen’s inspiration to
reality. Tarver’s expertise in the area of nonprofits and world
social issues provided the perfect support. One World Futbol
Project is named for Sting’s song “One World.”
Jahnigen and Tarver had their own money dedicated to another
business venture at the time, but Jahnigen is also a music producer
who has worked Sting’s Rainforest Benefit concert at Carnegie
They were chatting one day in July 2008 when Sting mentioned a
friend who’d built a soccer field in the Gaza Strip. Jahnigen
mentioned his idea for the ball.
“He immediately turned to me and said: ‘That’s a really good
idea. Do you know how to make that happen?”’ Jahnigen said. “He
said, ‘If you’ll do it, I’ll pay for it.”’
Jahnigen already had a connection with the material
manufacturers in Canada.
At the start, the ball will be available in size 5 and in blue,
representative color of the United Nations. More colors and sizes
will follow. The One World ball is intended for recreational use
and training, not to replace a high-level competition ball used in
matches. It is produced in Canada and requires no hand stitching,
unlike standard soccer balls.
George Hopkins, a longtime elite soccer coach in Oakland, is
already using one of the balls in his camps and private
For the 50-year-old Jahnigen, who lives in Berkeley, a sports
venture is something new. He and his wife run a business dealing
with another of his inventions, an infrared warming and therapy
technology system for animals for scientific and surgical
applications and also in the home.
“If you’d asked me four years ago if I’d be in the ball
business, I would have laughed. It’s been a great adventure and a
blessing,” Jahnigen said.
Jahnigen and Tarver are grateful for the support from Sting to
get this project running.
“It was suddenly obvious to me that putting a little money into
producing soccer balls like that could go a whole lot farther than
building soccer fields,” Sting said in a statement. “That’s the
moment when I decided to help Tim and get involved in developing
the One World Futbol.”
Jahnigen and Tarver have no idea what to expect in terms of a
response. Initial orders will be shipped starting next week, but
they acknowledge there could be a delay if the demand is high right
“It’s this total unknown,” Tarver said. “Nobody’s ever done
this before. It really is all-terrain, all conditions, no matter
While a quality soccer ball ranges in cost from around $20 to
the $150 for the game ball being used in World Cup play, Jahnigen
and Tarver believe soccer fans or supporters of their cause will
spend a little extra knowing the One World ball will last and that
they are helping a cause.
Nonprofits or other programs will be able to buy the balls at a
discounted rate and others who want to help can donate if they
don’t want or need the ball themselves.
“It captures everyone’s attention on so many different
levels,” Tarver said. “It’s just been extraordinary the support
Jahnigen has received positive feedback as he’s shared the ball
in South Africa.
“Every time I see children’s reactions to this ball … they’re
the ones who have shown me all along that we’re doing the right
thing,” he said.