Confirmed By NASA: Jabulani The Worst Soccer Ball in History

Analysis compiled by NASA’s Ames Investigation Centre experts, who specialise in the field of aerodynamics, revealed that the Jabulani becomes unpredictable at speeds in excess 44mph.

Further criticisms voiced by a host of World Cup players, before and during the tournament, of the ball's inconsistent flight patterns have been attributed to it's ultra light weight of just 440 grams which makes it vulnerable to a force known as the ‘knuckle effect’.

NASA also believe that the effects of altitude could have increased the unpredictability of the ball with most stadiums in South Africa at least 1,000 metres above sea level.

Weird spelling/grammar sic in the original.


The knuckle effect, as baseball fans can probably tell you, occurs when a lack of spin causes irregular, oscillating drag forces to push and pull the ball in different, unpredictable directions in flight, based on surface features like seams, scuff marks, etc. A rapidly spinning ball, by contrast, basically evens out the drag coefficient of any difference in surface features, creating a nice smooth laminar boundary layer. Here's how one aerodynamics engineer explains it:

When the boundary layer of a sports ball undergoes the transition from laminar to turbulent flow, a drag crisis occurs whereby the drag coefficient (Cd) rapidly decreases. Especially, we can observe the strange swaying on non-spinning type soccer balls by lateral force fluctuations, which can cause the ‘knuckle effect’.

Now every object will knuckle at a certain speed range, given its weight, shape, surface texture, and overall balance. The Ames researchers estimate that your classic soccer ball experiences knuckling at much lower speeds than the frisky Jabulani. Heavier, with a rougher surface and more seams mean that at striking speeds...penalty kicks, face-crunching field goals, etc....the old checkered hexagonal ball most pro players are used to has basically punched through its knuckle effect. It's heavier, so inertia and drag coefficients have stabilized at 45-60 mph and above.


But that speed range – the striker's speed range – is precisely where the Jabulani begins to do its little dance. Its smoother surface means a non-spinning ball attains a higher velocity before drag coefficients begin to 'flutter'. At the same time, the lower weight means that even at the higher speeds it has a lower inertial mass to overcome flutter effects.


And voila! Pound the Jabulani hard enough in the relatively thin air of South Africa, and if you don't get enough spin, you got yourself a knuckleball.


Well. Not all players hate the ball. Arguably a ball that gets hinky at high speeds could be an advantage for strikers, leading to higher-scoring matches. (Doesn't explain the goal drought very well, though it might explain some of the more bizarre near-misses.) As Adelaide University's Derek Leinweber remarks, even while criticizing the Jab,

"If you want the goalkeeper to design the ball, they will give you an
iron ball that sits at the centre of the field."

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You know,

Bird Dog's picture

if officials figured out a way to make the games higher-scoring, like getting rid of the offsides penalty, then maybe people wouldn't complain about a ball.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

You need some kind of offsides rule.


The original Sheffield Rules had no offsides penalty, and the result was a position unique to those rules known as a "kick through", that is, an offensive player stationed by the opponent goal. A defender called a "cover goal" was assigned to this guy, and so the entire Sheffield game was organized around the strategy of shooting long passes to the kick through.


The offsides rule was developed to break up this "goaltending" aspect of the game. Obviously, many argue the current FIFA interpretation goes too far. I would agree. Instead of making the 2nd to last defender the "line", I would create a penalty for leaving offensive players in the backfield...make goaltending illegal either offensively or defensively, but allow fast breaks and passing to punch through the defender's line.


As for low scoring, that *is* the beauty of the game. It's the source of all the anxiety, the tragedy. It's the reason Andres Cantor is famous for going "Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!!" It's the reason you have to stay glued to every second of a match...because the mere difference of 1 and 0 often decides the outcome of four years of international struggle to get to the cup. Actually, maybe it's a reason to keep the offsides rule.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Yeah, I Don't Understand the Lack of Scoring Criticism


which is tossed at ice hockey, as well. Every goal is precious and the tension mounts with every shot off the post, or just missed centering pass, or stick-checked shooter, or failed clearing attempt until the passes connect, the skater dekes, the goalie misreads, the shooter shoots and the horn sounds.

Perhaps. . .

M Scott Eiland's picture

. . .but history suggests otherwise.

Stern deserved the slapdown, and my brief exposure to the almighty Sepp Blatter has convinced me that he needs to be cut off at the ankles as well--preferably with a sharpened vuvuzela. Maybe this mini-scandal will do the job, and maybe this will drive home the lesson once and for all--if you're going to futz around with the crucial equipment in a multi-billion dollar sport, test the new equipment carefully before making the change, and HAVE THE PEOPLE WHO WILL ACTUALLY BE USING IT PARTICIPATE IN THE TESTING, YOU F***ING IDIOTS!!!

. . .and Don Mattingly must be fired (bye Ned--don't let the door hit you in the @$$ on the way out!).

I was thinking about the NBA ball...

Bird Dog's picture

...when I wrote the comment.  But basketball is an infinitely better game than soccer, so all that's left is arguing about the little things like leather or synthetic.  BTW, synthetics are improving but I still prefer leather, and I agree that Stern went about it all wrong.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

An 'infinitely better' game?


They're practically identical, certainly species of the same genus. Soccer is bigger in scale, more players, larger field, longer duration of play. It's also more brutal both athletically and in terms of contact. Basketball is smaller, quicker, fits better on a TV screen, with more refined (but generally similar) rules. Soccer is infinitely more important worldwide, though I wouldn't mind seeing b-ball emerge as a global pro sport...we're nowhere close to that as of now. Both can be amazingly exciting to watch, albeit in different ways (you watch goals in b-ball, midfield play in soccer).

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Yes, infinitely better!

Bird Dog's picture

There is something communist or evil about having a ball sport where the use of your hands is verboten.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

So just root for the goal-keepers then. :) -nt-



"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes


Bird Dog's picture

And I go to Mariner games to root for the catcher!

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Well, Better Anyway

M Scott Eiland's picture

While I wouldn't express it as bluntly as some, there's something weird about designing a sport around denying the athletes the use of their opposable thumbs. Between that and the more three-dimensional nature of basketball, I definitely feel comfortable in preferring b-ball, without needing to engage in hyperbolic mocking of soccer like some. Lose the f***ing vuvuzelas, though.

. . .and Don Mattingly must be fired (bye Ned--don't let the door hit you in the @$$ on the way out!).

Soccer isn't three dimensional?


Try explaining that to strikers who win because they know how to smash in goals with their face.



"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Talked to an Argentine, who asked about American attitudes


toward soccer, why it hasn't made more headway in the USA.   I said basketball already scratches America's itch for what the rest of the world wants from soccer:  a fast, back-and-forth passing game featuring a round ball, titanic individual egos, floppers galore and a string net.  

If I Was Hiring A Commissioner For A Major Sport. . .

M Scott Eiland's picture

. . .I'd play the old word association game with any candidates for the job. If their reaction to "PETA" wasn't a variation of "FOAD", I'd throw the candidate out the nearest plate glass window and call in the next one. Pandering to a bunch of single-issue psychotics isn't compatible with running a multi-billion dollar business.

Speaking of which--good for you, Jim Skinner. Now crush the maggots in court when they come after you.

. . .and Don Mattingly must be fired (bye Ned--don't let the door hit you in the @$$ on the way out!).

And the Prediction of the Winner Breaks Down Almost Perfectly..



....along Racial lines.



I find this ESPN map to be a little disturbing or...simply further confirmation that confirmation bias cannot be overcome...or that idenity is so central to who we are that Norhtern Europeans vote for Netherlands, by in large, and the Latin population of states to the for Spain.


Interesting....though maybe expected.