Posts Tagged ‘fun’

The Science of the World Cup

June 16, 2010

I’m back! Thankfully exams are over, and the 19th FIFA World Cup has begun in South Africa.  This competition comes around every four years commentators and spectators alike marvel at the skills of the players and the exuberance of the fans and this year is no different. What does change is the science of the World Cup, which (at the time of writing) is more interesting than a lot of the games.

New Balls Please

No World Cup would be complete without complaints about the new ball.  Is it too round?  Does it fly too quickly?  Is it inherently evil? This year it is the turn of the Adidas Jabulani.  As with previous tournament balls the Jabulani has be meticulously designed to be even and consistent.  The ball is a new breed of seamless design, Polyethurane panels are heat sealed together, ensuring durability. There have been complaints, especially from goalkeepers, that the flight of the ball is unpredictable and erratic.  Adidas claim the grooves etched into the Jabulani have been designed with aerodynamics in mind, citing intensive testing in wind-tunnels and experiments using mechanical kicking machines.  Complaints about the new ball could be down to another scientific quirk effecting the tournament in South Africa.

Bad Altitude

Due the to varied and interesting topography of South Africa some of the games will be played at high altitude.  Playing at high altitude means the air is thinner, this has two major effects:

1) There is less air resistance, increasing the speed at which the ball can travel, while also reducing the effects of applied curve. (see video:

2) The is less oxygen available, putting a strain on the physical exertions of the players.

The change in drag due to altered altitude could explain some of the players complaints about the new ball.  To read more about the effects of high altitude on the beautiful game read this excellent article from The New Scientist (Feeling the Pressure: The World Cup Altitude Factor)


The vuvuzela is one of the defining features of the 2010 World Cup. These loud plastic horns are a part of South African football culture. They produce a loud drone noise, and when amplified by tens of thousand of spectators can give the impression the stadium is overrun by a horde of angry bees.  Broadcasters have tried to combat the vuvuzelas by employing sound canceling technology. However the note produced by the vuvuzelas is remarkable common in human speech patterns, therefore sound cancelation technology would effect the audibility of the commentators.

The Trophy

And finally, please watch this interesting video on the chemistry of the World Cup Trophy.