Sports’ Goods

The information below does not cover so-called sports involving animals like horses or fishing which in themselves involve animal exploitation, but focuses, instead, on the animal products used in commonly participated sports, which can be played and enjoyed with a reasonably good, and often better performing non-animal substitute.

Unfortunately, leather, in some form or another, is utilized in most sports. Some times, the material is synthetic leather – simply labeled or referred to as leather – so it is essential to ascertain whether it is animal hide or not.

Manufacture of Sports’ Goods

Prior to partition, Sialkot (Pakistan) was the main centre of the sports’ goods industry. Thereafter, Jalandhar in Punjab became the nucleus of manufacturing and marketing Indian sports’ goods – the city has been famous for sports goods for nearly 125 years. Since independence, the industry has expanded to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, and to Gurgaon in Haryana.

In 2022, citing security reasons craftsmen from Meerut turned down lucrative offers to go to Kashmir to train locals in making cricket bats at a manufacturing unit set up at a cost of nearly Rs 5 crore at Sethar in Anantnag region. Meerut is known for its craftsmen who manufacture world class cricket bats; while Kashmir is known for its good quality willow suitable for making cricket bats, but the raw wood is not allowed to be sent outside the state. In fact, Meerut is dependent upon willow imported at a high cost from England since it is considered the most suitable for cricket bats.

Initially, the cluster of units at Jalandhar manufactured items for tennis, field hockey, footballs, cricket bats and balls only. Later they added rugby balls, badminton racquets and shuttlecocks. They also make items such as sports shoes, apparel, trekking bags and fitness equipment. Skipping or gym items are also considered entertainment and therefore they attract high GST. By 2024 GST, as also imports from China (raw materials and final products sold under Indian brands) have added to the decline of the sport industry in Jalandhar.

The Sports Goods Export Promotion Council is a nodal agency set up by the Government of India. Around 318 sports items manufactured in India are sold within the country and also exported. They are mainly
balls, sticks, racquets, shuttlecocks, bats, boards, and protective equipment such as gloves, helmets, chest and abdominal guards.

Badminton: The game is played with a racquet and shuttlecock (shortened to shuttle – also called a bird or birdie). The shuttlecock is a high-drag projectile having an open conical shape. The cone is formed with sixteen overlapping duck or goose feathers (usually only from the left wing) embedded into a round cork base. The shuttlecock’s shape makes it aerodynamically stable – regardless of initial orientation, it will turn to fly cork first and remain in the cork-first orientation.

Countries that mainly produce (and export) shuttlecocks are China, Taiwan and Indonesia. Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, UK, France and Ireland also make them. In comparison India is a small manufacturer because production involves manual operations. However India also imports and exports badminton shuttlecocks. The domestic market is met partially through its own production and the rest through imports. Chinese and Taiwanese companies are steadily finding their way into sports’ shops in India.

Shuttlecocks are made in Jalandhar (Punjab) and Uluberia (West Bengal). Whereas a variety of sports’ goods are manufactured at Jalandhar, at Uluberia only shuttlecocks are made.

Shuttlecocks imported from China outdo the Indian ones in quality and price. So, in 2000 a few leading manufacturers of Jalandhar visited China and found that the raw material there was superior and that their production processes were very efficient. They therefore decided to import the materials in a pre-assembled condition and manually assemble the shuttlecocks in India.

India imports shuttlecocks mainly from China, Japan, Ireland, Taiwan and Malaysia, and exports them to USA, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, UAE, Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Sri Lanka, etc.

Few are aware of the shuttlecock cottage-industry in Uluberia, Howrah District in West Bengal, which has been in existence pre-independence. The cluster consists of 150 units with an annual production of 7,500,000 shuttlecocks. In fact, 65% of Indian shuttlecocks are made here in the traditional way without the use of modern machines.

There are about eight feather merchants in the cluster. They procure duck feathers from places on the India-Bangladesh border. In other words, feathers are regularly smuggled-in to India from Bangladesh! A bag of about 70,000 feathers costs over Rs 50,000/-. However, the fact is that the supply of feathers is irregular as the main source is from the villages on the border. Check-posts between Barasat (North 24 Parganas) and Balurghat (South Dinajpur) have been increased in order to control free trade. The feather merchants say they also get duck and hen feathers from Arambagh (Hooghly), but availability is further affected due to periodic bird flu epidemics when chickens are culled.

White duck-wing feathers are used for best quality shuttlecocks, whereas white and black wing duck feathers and some times hen’s feathers are used in poorer qualities. Geese-wing feathers are also used for making shuttlecocks. Feathers are sorted quality-wise and graded from 1 to 6 (inferior qualities being grades 4 to 6). They are then washed in detergent for up to an hour. Then they are treated with ultramarine blue or optical whitener. When dry, the feathers are trimmed to 3½ inches in length and are rounded on top with a scissors. (Since manually cut and finished, the feathers are inconsistent in size resulting in high rejection.)

The Uluberia Block Development Offices I and II, and Panchayat Samities have begun promoting duck farms in collaboration with the Directorate of Animal Husbandry, Government of West Bengal, so that the demand for feathers is constantly met.

Feathers are not the only components of animal origin in shuttlecocks. For the bottom, corks used to be imported from Spain and Portugal (some still import), but now synthetic (rubberized) corks and adhesives from China are used. The corks are pressed onto alum tanned leather and 16 feathers are affixed by hand into the 16 holes that have been drilled in each cork. After plait-binding the feathers with cotton thread, a gelatine coat is applied over the knotted thread. A silk or cotton ribbon is then fixed where the cork base and feathers join, and a brand sticker or show tape is glued on to the middle of the base. Finally, the shuttlecocks are weighed and if necessary their weight is adjusted with the help of tiny steel pins. 10 are packed in cylindrical box called a roll.

The shuttlecock breaks easily as the feathers are brittle and therefore needs to be replaced frequently during play. Durable plastic and nylon shuttlecocks are available, but unfortunately most tournaments only use those made of duck feathers. Beauty Without Cruelty lauds F5 Ventures, an event organizing company who conduct inter-corporate badminton tournaments using nylon shuttlecocks.

A professional badminton player has informed us that he avoids tournaments where feather shuttlecocks are used. He wrote BWC that “Nylon shuttlecocks will perform exactly the same as feather cocks do. Moreover, nylon cocks are durable. Yonex is the shuttlecock manufacturing company which makes three different grades of nylon cocks to match the environment as well as the performance of feather cocks.”

Yonex, a Japanese company with factories in China, also manufactures badminton racquets, and have managed to put Silver out of business in India.

Badminton racquets are no longer made of shellac-polished wood, nor are they heavy since they are now made of carbon fibre composite or graphite reinforced plastic.

Bags, cases and kits used to carry equipment for sports could be made of leather or hide, or have leather trimmings. They could even be silk-lined.

used in sports such as cricket, hockey, football, volleyball, basketball, netball, and baseball are traditionally made of leather. Nowadays, balls made of synthetic materials are also available. By 2015 over 50% of the world’s rugby balls were being manufactured at Jalandhar. They shifted from leather to rubber balls when technology changed – for the World Rugby Cup in 1987 the first rubber balls were made in the UK. Tennis balls’ covers are of wool whereas baseballs are stuffed with wool and covered with leather. Table tennis/ping-pong balls are air-filled celluloid (plant origin) or of similar plastic material. Squash balls are made from two pieces of a rubber compound, glued together to form a hollow sphere and buffed to a matte finish.

Baseball and Softball: The baseball consists of a round of cushioned cork centre wrapped tightly in
windings of wool and covered by stitched full grain cow-hide. Baseball gloves or mitts could be of leather. But simulated leather foam is used for the helmets. The grip of leather softballs is preferred by pitchers to that of synthetic ones although both are just as good and go as far.

Boxing: The waistband used to protect the boxer’s pelvis from deadly shots that is usually black or red in colour, is some times made of leather, otherwise of rubber. Boxers’ aerobic, workout bag gloves and some other gloves are of leather; so are punching pads and gloves, abdominal and groin protectors, and boxing shoes. Hand-weight gloves are usually of neoprene (rubber). Boxing heavy bags are usually of thick coated vinyl with a nylon outer covering.

It would not be out of place to state that the sport (if boxing can be called a sport) is one such activity which requires the raining of blows upon the opponent’s body, resulting always in the spillage of blood and sometimes even in the fracture of bones, all the while cheered on by supporters and spectators, is nothing more than a modern-day gladiatorial spectacle that needs to be abolished without condition and without any further consideration or delay. Like duelling, boxing should be banned.

Chess pieces could be of wood, plastic, acrylic, bone, man-made ivory or elephant ivory.

Chalk: The powder used on carom boards, etc. is usually boric powder (mineral).

Titanium dioxide (mineral) is used as powdered chalk to mark boundary lines on courts for sports.

Chalk applied to the hands in gymnastics, rock-climbing, weight-lifting and for tug-of-war is usually magnesium carbonate (mineral).

Cue tip chalk is made by crushing silica and corundum or aluminium oxide into a powder using forced air to achieve the desired consistency, then a green or blue-green dye and glue (binder of animal origin) are added before being hydraulically pressed down and cut into small cubes.

Cricket ball makers from Sialkot first came to Agra, then settled down in Meerut which is now the manufacturing hub from where they are also exported.

Cricket balls are made of top grade leather – cow or bull hide that comes from farms around Meerut. Hides with scratches and blemishes are rejected. The chosen leather is cut into 2½ sq ft pieces, treated with chemicals to make it flexible and put out in the sun to dry. Men wearing shorts and galoshes then stomp down upon the pieces kept in vats of bright red dye. Dried again, the leather could once more be rejected if the colour is blotchy.

A manufacturer has aptly explained the rejection: “…you know how when people are not well, it shows on their skin, it’s like that with animals, if they are not taken care of, it shows on their leather.” In other words, a well-fed, healthy, young cow or bull’s hide goes into the making of cricket balls. Buffalo leather was tried, but found to be unsuitable.

Any way, the next step is for the leather to be manually squeezed and stretched to get rid of all stiffness and make it still more flexible. A dollop of animal fat rubbed into the leather aids the process, after which it is yet again sun-dried.

Every ball takes 75 days to be made. The core is a grey-brown ball of cork-rubber. Around this, narrow sheets of cork (from the tree) and string of wet wool is tightly wound. The core is then placed in a wooden bowl and pummeled into a sphere with a wooden hammer. The process is repeated five to seven times, making sure that each layer has dried. The core is then hung up for 2½ months.

Meanwhile, the unblemished leather pieces are cut into required sizes and stitched into half-ball covers which are placed on a round hollow and given a definite shape with the help of a machine called thappai.

Finally, the two halves are placed over the dried core, filling the gap in-between the core and cover with shavings of leather. Using a strong needle and a thick strand of wool coated with animal fat, a slightly raised seam of 78 to 82 stitches is sewn.

Beginning with Uttar Pradesh, states like Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh began systematically cracking down on illegal slaughter houses in 2017. Consequently, the supply of leather dropped. To meet the demand, some cricket ball manufacturers from Meerut and Jallandhar began sourcing cow hide from Kerala, West Bengal and North Eastern states. Others began importing from Switzerland, England and Australia.


Some cheap balls are wax-finished with beeswax. In top quality balls, the covering is constructed with four pieces of alum tanned leather. British made cow leather cricket balls under the brand name of Dukes by a person of Indian origin are considered the “best”. For Test and First Class cricket that spread over days, the cricket ball is traditionally dyed red and is used for a minimum of 80 overs. In one-day matches it is white like those made by the Australian company Kookaburra, and at least two new balls are used for each match. Training balls are red, white or pink.

In December 2015 the first Day-Night Test was played with pink balls made with the same components as the red and white ones. The main difference is that the pink balls (that have black outer seams) are not dipped in grease like the red ones.

Although cricket bats, stumps, protective gear, spiked shoes, batting pads and gloves are non-leather, both leather and wool are very much a part of cricket. Wicket gloves are of leather and the jumper worn by cricketers is a woolen pullover. The “best” batting gloves are made by Pittards from high quality sheep skin; others have a calf skin palm and contain plastizote filling; whereas, common batting gloves are made of suede leather and have a PVC cover guard for individual fingers.

When in 1996, Beauty Without Cruelty carried an article on sports goods in Compassionate Friend magazine, the 145th Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Puri, Nischalananda Saraswati called upon Hindus not to play cricket with leather balls.

Today cricket balls made of non-leather materials have a higher sale than those made from leather, mainly because they are cheaper and slower in wearing out as compared to the leather ones. Usually made of PVC (Poly-Vinyl-Chloride) on the outside with PU (Poly-Urethane) as the core, they may not be perfect performance-wise, but then how many youngsters play world-class cricket? (The same could be said of footballs.)

Interestingly, F5 Ventures, an event organizing company who conduct inter-corporate tournaments, use non-leather balls for cricket matches.

In October 2015 BWC wrote to The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to consider stopping the use of cricket balls made of leather because it was not beef eating alone that killed the cow.

Our Hinsa vs. Ahinsa e-mailer on Cricket and articles on the subject in our magazine did not make as big an impact as a widely published news article in August 2019 which stated that the Earley Cricket Club of Reading in UK had introduced vegan cricket balls – and vegan food. BWC immediately wrote to congratulate Mr Gary Shacklady, the club’s founder and chairman.

In addition to using leather balls to play cricket, at Paleta village in Uttarkhand, the local Khassi Cup is held. To enter the tournament Rs 2,200/- is paid by each team. With the money collected a khassi variety of goat that has been fattened and costs around Rs 8,000/- is bought and presented to the team that wins. A similar tournament is played at Munsyari in which about 14 teams participate and is named the Boka Cup. Boka is a bearded variety of goat. BWC shudders at the thought of these innocent goats that are received as prizes being slaughtered and their meat feasted upon.

for boxing, golf, racing, etc. could be of cabretta leather or a mix of cabretta and non-animal/synthetic leather. Woolen gloves could also be used. The glove or mitt as is known for baseball is
made of padded leather with webbing between the fingers.

Golf clubs could be equipped with expensive leather grips generally made of cowhide or calfskin, although rubber ones are available. Golf balls were originally wooden, then Featherie stuffed with chicken or goose feathers and covered with leather, or white leather balls filled with cow hair. Later, Gutty/Gutta Percha balls were created from the dried sap of the Sapodilla tree. They had a rubber-like feel and the balls were hammered by hand. Then followed the mass machine produced solid rubber cored balls covered with the typical Gutty design. The ball today consists of several layers of various synthetic materials like surlyn or urethane blends with the Gutty design.

Golf shoes are made from multi-seasonal yak leather combined with non-leather materials like light weight EVA or PEVA (poly ethylene vinyl acetate) for soles.

Gymnastics use grips that are worn on the hands when performing. They come in different designs but basically consist of a wide strip of leather joined to a wrist strap. The pommel horse could be of wood with a leather cover or plastic with synthetic material. Training mats are usually of 100% unfilled polyurethane foam and covered with rugged PVC coated vinyl, double sewn for durability.

Hockey sticks are made of wood or composite materials such as fiberglass, but the top half of the sticks have grips of chamois leather, rubber or TPR. The outer casing of the spherical field hockey ball is made up of bovine leather or unbreakable PU/PVC material. Most are made of the latter with a hollow centre, or a cork centre, and called turf balls.

Mountain Biking and Cycling: Biking is a sport that involves more often than not, the use of leather saddles on bikes. Besides this, the biker may choose to wear leather shoes and use leather or woolen accessories. Cycling may or may not involve the use of leather, e.g. cycle accessories, shoes, gloves. In any case animal derivatives go into the making of bike and car tires.

Nets used for games such as tennis, table-tennis, badminton, basketball, hockey, football, etc. consist of cotton, nylon, vinyl, polyethelene and polyester chords/twines/materials.

Poker chips, Dominoes, Dice, Draughts/Checkers, Carrom strikers, and Playing cards may be coated with shellac to give a glossy, silky finish. Poker chips are made from a composition of clay (kept secret), ceramic and plastic. Dominoes are of ivory, bone or hardwood ebony; and sets made of other hardwoods, marble, granite, soapstone, brass, pewter, ceramic, clay, frosted-glass, crystal, polymer, and plastic materials are also available. In different parts of the world dice are made of amber, animal horn, bakelite (plastic), bone, candy, celluloid (plant origin), foam rubber, formalith (organic compound), glass, ivory, metal, paper, plastic, rubber, sculpy (clay), soap, sponge, stone, turtle shell, wax and wood. Draughts or checkers were traditionally made of wood, but are now are plastic. Instead of disks of solid wood, ivory or acrylic, carrom men – including the striker – are rings, originally of wood but today commercially made of light plastic. Playing cards are a combination of paper, plastic and printing mainly by the lithography process.

Racing car seats and accessories could be manufactured using leather as also the grips for motorcycles and bicycles used for racing. All vehicle tires can contain animal origin stearic acid.

Racquets: There was a time when catgut was used to make all sports’ racquets, but years ago most manufacturers stopped using them. The additional advantages being that the non-animal origin string makes the racquets lighter, longer lasting and cheaper.

Racquets for badminton, squash and tennis are now mostly made of tough nylon string/taant. However some racquets may still have catgut/natural gut obtained from animals – not necessarily the cat’s, cords could be prepared from intestines of animals like sheep, goat, horse, mule, donkey, fish, but more likely of hog/pig or ox.

Whatever the game, the place where the handle is gripped may have leather and probably affixed with animal glue. And, wooden racquets could have shellac in the polish used.

Sports shoes and footwear: sport shoes, athletic shoes, running shoes, hiking shoes and boots for all games could contain leather, non-leather or both. Hiking and athletic socks could be of wool.

Sports clothing and apparel: Leather and wool could have been extensively utilized, although materials of non-animal origin are also used for making coats, jerseys, pullovers, jackets, gloves and caps for sportspersons.

Soccer: Footballs are of leather. So are soccer cleats, boots, buttons, jackets and even some helmets. The Predator PowerSwerve football boots by Adidas have kangaroo skin uppers. The skin was specially replaced by a lightweight microfibre but only for the internationally famous footballer David Beckham who heeded objections from UK’s animal rights activists.

Snooker/billiard/pool/cue sport tables and some other game-tables like card-tables are covered with typical green coloured billiard cloth referred to as felt, but is actually a woven wool or blend of wool and nylon called baize.

Cue sticks are made of wood covered or bonded with other materials such as carbon fibre, fibreglass and/or aluminium. The end of the shaft has a cuff known as the ferrule which holds the cue tip in place to bear the brunt of impact with the ball. Ferrules are predominately made of ivory, carbon fibre or plastic. Leather tips of varying degrees, shapes and hardness are affixed/glued (animal origin glue) to the ferrule. The cue butt could be inlayed with ivory.

Over centuries balls have been made from wood, clay, ivory, celluloid (plant origin), crystallite, plastic, and steel, with ivory being the most popular at one time. Today they are made of thermoset resin which is an organic polymer used as a basis of plastics, adhesives, varnishes, etc.

Track racing: Leather race suits are worn often. Some bike handlebar tapes are shellac-coated and shellac is used as a hard-drying adhesive for tubular cycle tyres for track racing.

Traditional Sports of India

The names of the umpteen sports played in India along with a brief description of what the game involves are stated below. Although most of them utilize no animal products, the use of leather is not ruled out in belts, footwear and protective gear.

Asol Aap: a traditional canoe race of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Kabaddi: is physically demanding since it is a combination of wrestling, rugby (without a ball), running and tagging, played by teams. The game was introduced in the Indian Olympic Games at Kolkata in 1938. It has become a very popular sport and matches are telecast live.

Gella chutt: famous in Tripura, the game is played between an “out-group” and an “in-group” of 10 to 12 players each. The nominated “king” needs to reach his team members without touching the “out-group” members who try to stop him.

Gilli danda: played with two wooden sticks.

Hiyang tannaba: a boat race of Manipur, during the festival Lai Haraoba.

Inbuan: played in Mizoram, it is a form of combat wrestling with the catch-hold leather belt worn by the wrestlers around the waist required to remain tight all through the game.

Insuknawr: declared as the game of Mizoram state. It is rod-pushing in which the objective is to push the opponent with the single long rounded wooden rod placed under the arms of both players, out of the circle in three rounds.

Kalari Payattu: Kerala’s martial art, it is similar to Karate, swords or knives to attack adversaries (even unarmed exponents) are utilized. The technique of Pranayama (breathing control) is a prominent feature.

Kusti/Kusthi: Begin by thinking of famous vegetarian wrestlers Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt. This ancient Indian combative wrestling takes place in a clay or dirt pit. The soil is mixed with ghee, milk and mustard oil and is tended to before each practice. Wrestlers live and train together in akharas or gyms and follow strict rules on every thing from what they can eat to what they can do in their spare time. Their diet is vegetarian which goes to prove that non-vegetarian food is not at all necessary for wrestlers’ strength, size, etc. (No intoxicants and sex is allowed in order to conserve their energy.)

Lamjei: an athletic event in Manipur, the race is of half a mile.

Mallakhamb: literally means gymnast (malla) on pole (khamb). It involves performing tasks like twisting, turning, stretching and balancing on fixed poles (teak or sesame/rose wood to which castor oil is applied); hanging or suspended poles with chains and hooks; cane or rope using swords and torches; or niradhar meaning performing without support. Nimbleness, flexibility and super reflexes are basic requirements for performances. Over 14 states participate in national Mallakhamb events. (May be, this ancient 12th century performance which keeps spectators spellbound could be promoted by circuses as an “attraction” in place of animal performances.)

Mukna: features a blend of wrestling and judo during the festival Lai Haraoba. Contestants wear a waist belt or ningri, and groin belt.

Pachishi: also known as “mind game” it is played by four players (two teaming up as partners) on a board in the shape of a cross.

Pallanguli: also known as the ‘number game’ and is usually played by Tamil women. The board has 14 cups each payer controlling 7. Six seeds are place in each cup.

Sagol Kangjei: better known as polo is played on pony/horse back with a kang (circular object like ball made from bamboo root) and jei (wooden stick for hitting the object). Protection gear could be of leather.

Silambam: type of fencing, popular in Tamil Nadu.

Thoda: martial art of Himachal Pradesh involving a rhythmic war dance together with archery played with wooden bows and arrows as weapons, on Baisakhi Day.

Vallamkali: a popular ancient ‘snake boat race’ of Kerala during the festival of Onam.

Wrestling and Martial Arts: Wrestlers’ belts are of leather. Sparring gear, protective head gear, belts and dummies for wrestling and martial arts can be made of leather.

Page last updated on 27/05/24