The story behind the jerseys at the 2018 World Cup
By Susan L. Sokolowski, University of Oregon via The Associated Press | Posted July 11, 2018 at 12:01 PM
There are lots of rules about World Cup jerseys right down to the number of colors. And then there's the issue of counterfeit jerseys.
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What's involved in designing World Cup jerseys?
By Susan L. Sokolowski, University of Oregon
Nearly 3.5 billion people are expected to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. They’ll all see players wearing a fresh batch of national jerseys, designed by the major sport product manufacturers. Millions of authentic tops are made for fans to buy. Even more are counterfeited.
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Before I became a professor of sports product design at the University of Oregon, I spent about 20 years working for a major sports manufacturer on innovative products, for events like the World Cup and the Champions League Final. Sport manufacturers such as Adidas, Nike, New Balance, Puma, Uhlsport, Umbro and Under Armour start research and product development two to three years before a World Cup begins.
Jerseys must represent teams’ countries, perform for elite athletes and be desirable for fans. They must also deter counterfeiting, which undermines the only real way jersey manufacturers can recoup their design and production investments.
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Following the rules
The jerseys must first obey guidelines set by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. Some are pretty basic – like making sure players’ jerseys aren’t easily confused with referees’ shirts, and that they have sleeves; soccer jerseys can’t be tank tops.
Other rules are more detailed, like banning jerseys that have more than four colors, unless they’re striped or checkered in two equal colors – in which case the jersey can use five colors.
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The manufacturer's design touch
Typically a jersey manufacturer will come up with a few ideas for each home and away jersey. Often they’ll include designs that look a lot like the team’s last World Cup jersey, others that are very different and still others somewhere in between the old design and a brand new one. The company usually hopes it’ll be allowed to create something at least relatively new, rather than just remaking a design from the past.
The company making the jersey can add some design elements, too – but of course they must be approved by FIFA and the national federation. Some of these – like the neckline – are aesthetic features that may have a historical nod to each nation’s heritage.
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Other elements can combine appearance and function, like the cut and fit of the jersey, ventilation or how its materials handle sweat. There are also aspects of the design intended to deter counterfeiting; for the 2018 World Cup, many of the major sport manufacturers developed engineered knit jersey materials that help with thermoregulation and fit, while providing a unique appearance that is difficult to knock-off without the exact machinery and programming skills.
The manufacturers will lab-test the materials, and then let elite players confidentially test the physical designs, on pitch, during training sessions.