Football’s secret shame
The Sherrin and Canterbury footballs that Australian children punt, pass and catch in weekend games are stitched by India’s poorest children in appalling, dangerous and illegal conditions.
Samvari barely looks up: her lean, lithe fingers don’t stop working for a second. Using her thumbs, she pushes the two heavy needles through the PVC panels gripped tightly between her knees. With a sharp tug, she pulls the waxed string through hard, as far as her arms will extend.
At her feet sits a handful of half-finished footballs – destined for Australia – and a loose pile of leather ellipses: her day’s progress and the work still in front of her. ”She likes to help stitch balls,” her mother Madhubala explains nervously. She is fearful of trouble for having her daughter work. ”She’s only been stitching a few months.”
Samvari’s well-practised movements suggest otherwise. Samvari is 10. Indian law says she must go to school. ”But she doesn’t like it there, she cries and runs away and comes home,” Madhubala says. Besides, she explains, ”our family is poor, we need this money to live, to eat”.
Aussie icon made in India
Laxmi (mother in green sari holding baby) Sunali in blue and white dress, stitching Sherrins). Sunali, 11 and her sister Rupa, 10, stitch Sherrin Auskick balls while their mother, Laxmi, cares for their infant sister. Sunali doesn’t go to school anymore, instead she stitches six days a week. She is paid seven Rupees, about 12 cents, for every ball she completes. Photo: Ben Doherty