Canada 150: The Story of a Ball

Since 2014 VOLO Athletics has been producing branded soccer balls for Free Footie. Tim Adams, founder of Free Footie, called us due to the fair trade aspect of our products. He felt this was an important element that aligned with his values and the ethos of the soccer program he created. The fair trade component of our soccer balls refers to the labour that goes into making them. In 1996 soccer ball production was exposed for using child labour when LIFE Magazine published an article with a young boy stitching a Nike soccer ball. 

Fairtrade International stepped in to create guidelines, which today stand to assure against the use of child labour, offer fair wages to the adult workers and funding for social programs from every ball. VOLO pays those funds, the ‘fair trade premium’, into a separate account that is owned and controlled by the employees and they decide by committee how to spend those funds.

There have been a variety of uses that help raise the standard of living for these employees. Access to fresh water, basic health care like eye exams and diabetes tests, and purchasing school supplies for their children are examples of such programs supported by fair trade premiums.

VOLO Athletics is proud to have been working with Free Footie because they work to bring soccer to hundreds of kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to play. This aspiration aligns with my motivations as the founder of VOLO Athletics – I want to help people. In my case, it’s empowering people in the fight against poverty. In a similar spirit, Free Footie is empowering youth through soccer to learn new skills on the pitch which they can apply to their every day life off the pitch. Soccer is a great platform for that.

Taking it a step further, in 2016 Tim wanted to use the ball as an even greater message by inviting indigenous visual artists to create the artwork which would be incorporated into the design of the ball.

The first ball, designed by Cree Métis mixed media artist, Dawn Marie Marchand, was a remarkable success. The community embraced the message this ball provided resulting in enormous attention for Free Footie, their program and Dawn Marie. The ball even managed to get it in the hands of our Prime Minister!

This year, Jason Carter, one of Canada’s most exciting and accomplished contemporary Aboriginal visual artists has design the ball. It looks beautiful and is sure to turn heads both on and off the pitch.

It’s this inclusive approach to the way in which Free Footie operates their program that drives me to want to continue to be involved with them. Pushing for fair trade, commissioning indigenous artists to showcase their talent and stories, and welcoming youth who otherwise wouldn’t play the game – great aspirations they’ve made happen with an otherwise simple soccer ball.

Soccer has long since been a conduit by which a variety of issues travel beyond the game itself and Free Footie is tapping into that to channel some very positive messages. Thanks for including VOLO in your work!

James Milligan, MBA

Founder & President

VOLO Athletics Inc.

Vancouver, Canada