The Adidas Copa Mundial is the best-selling cleat of all-time. Players and aficionados boast that the shoes are the most comfortable, durable, and strong boot out in the market. One of the most important aspects of the cleat is the kangaroo leather (which covers most of the top). Although the Copa Mundial wasn’t the first shoe to utilize kangaroo leather, it did set a new standard with obvious benefits over calf or goat leather. These benefits unfortunately came with a cost on the kangaroo species. Kangaroo leather is great for cleats, there is no doubt about this, but is it ethical to purchase them? Lets take a quick look at the history and current issues of soccer shoes and kangaroo leather.
“45 velvet pairs and 1 leather pair for football.”
King Henry VIII is most notably known for two things: his separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, and his six marriages. What is little known is that King Henry was also the first recorded person to own a pair of soccer cleats. Included with his demand of velvet shoes was a “leather pair for football.” These boots were ankle high, heavy and made of calf leather. That was in 1526, and until the 1900’s, cowhide continued to be the primary material used for soccer shoes around the world.
It wasn’t until the 1940’s that soccer cleats began to resemble the ones we use today. The Brazilians are credited for influencing this change. A visiting Arsenal team saw what their South American counter-parts were using and marveled at the difference. The Brazilians favored boots that had a low-ankle, were lighter and more flexible. As opposed to just protecting the feet, they tailored their style to have a better “touch” on the ball. The influence of these shoes spread across Europe and eventually into Germany.
In the late 1940’s a German cobbler named Adolf Dassler split up a shoe company which he, and his brother Rudolf owned. Animosity over political differences was high at the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. Rudolf created a new shoe factory on the other side of town and Adolf decided to rename the current store. Adolf renamed the company Adidas, while his brother started a separate company named Puma, perhaps you’ve heard of them?
These two companies utilized the South American influence to create shoes that were worn by the world’s best during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Adidas and Puma dominated the market together until 1979 when Adidas released a new style, the Copa Mundial. What the Copa Mundial showcased was a much lighter, durable, soft, and comfortable cleat than any other in the market. After being used in the 1982 World Cup, the Copa Mundial would soon become the best-selling cleat of all-time. The difference was kangaroo leather.
Kangaroo leather has 10 times the tensile strength of cowhide and is 50% stronger than goatskin. If you were to split the leather down to only 20% of the original thickness, it would retain 30% to 60% of it’s original strength. If the same were done to calf leather, it would have a retention rate of only 1%-4%. If you were to put kangaroo skin under a microscope, you would notice a few unique traits. Their skin contains no erector pili muscles or sweat glands. This allows their hide to contain a high uniform orientation of fibre bundles, which makes it stronger. Their leather makes our cleats better, but what about the kangaroos themselves?
Viva!, (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals) have claimed that although it is legal for Adidas to hire workers to cull and kill the kangaroos, they do so using inhumane methods. Reports by Viva have shown that in certain situations, kangaroos have been beat to death using crude tools. The Australian Wildlife Protection Council along with the ABC documentary, “Kangaroos- Faces in the Mob” have also made complaints about the government-allowed “Code of Practice,” which allows the killing of kangaroos (young and old) using whatever instrument at hand (examples were: cars, water pipes and tree trunks). Numbers and reports claim that over a million die every year using these methods.
Wildlife Carers Group of Australia have also made claims that the government seldom use humane methods to kill the kangaroos. “They actually end up bashing them [kangaroos] to death. It’s never a clean kill,” states one member of WCG.
The government has responded by claiming that kangaroos, at times, are pests. In some areas of Australia there can be up to 1,100 kangaroos per square mile. The large numbers of kangaroos not only devastates local crops, but also destroys the grassy homes of endangered species. The government has also noted that large populations also put themselves in danger by running through traffic. In Canberra alone, around 1,000 kangaroos die each year by crossing into roads. The damages done to vehicles and roads cost $5 million per year. The overpopulation of kangaroos in Australia has proven to be a financial and environmental hindrance on the country. That being said, are the methods used to kill the kangaroos justified?
Luckily, man-made plastics and materials for cleats have been on the rise. With support from multiple wildlife and environmental groups, the push for synthetic cleats will continue for years. After the addition of Nike’s Mercurial Vapor’s onto the market, synthetic based shoes have become more popular. Will this soon cease the production of kangaroo leather shoes or will the synthetic materials prove to be a fad?
There is a pair of white Joma Castillas sitting across from me in my room. They are by far the most comfortable pair I have ever owned and breaking them in was almost too easy. They are also made of kangaroo leather. When I purchased them, I was aware of what they were made of but never thought too much about the situation. Should this stop me from buying the same exact pair? If I was to apply this logic of “ethics”, perhaps I should also throw away my iPod, not drive my car to work, toss half of my clothing away, and toss this laptop which I am currently using. I could also take these things one step at a time. Will I buy the same exact pair of shoes next time, I might. Will I consider my other options, I definitely will.