The Vuvuzela Controversy

Three days ago, not many people in the world could have identified a vuvuzela. I can tell you that I’m not one of them. Say the word, and it suggests the thing that hangs in the back of your throat (a uvula). Some would think it’s a country in South America that is a member of OPEC (Venezuela). I’m sure to many comedians, it suggests something a bit more NC-17, perhaps used in the phrase “she invited me over to see her vuvuzela, and when I got there I was brutally disappointed.”

South African Fan Blowing His Vuvuzela

By now, many sports fans know that the vuvuzela is a plastic horn available at all World Cup 2010 matches in South Africa. Its use accounts for that low-pitched hum we hear on television broadcasts of the World Cup matches. I know that several times the vuvuzela sound has drowned out the commentators, making it difficult to hear them (and, as a side note to ESPN, simply impossible to understand Derek Rae’s Scottish accent).

According to Wikipedia, a vuvuzela is about 1 meter long and plays a B note. It also pushes out sound at 131 decibels right near the opening, a level that, according to a few experts, can cause hearing loss.

The vuvuzela falls into the same bucket as several other well-known implements at sporting events that drive fans nuts: air horns, cowbells, drums, and thundersticks. I really loathe cowbells and the constant ringing at local high school hockey games here in suburban St. Louis. Thundersticks are usually evident at NBA games, as opposing fans try to distract free throw shooters in an exceptionally professional way. Not!

None of these, however, have attracted the same wave of publicity and discussion as the vuvuzela. From what I’ve read, the controversy started in the 2008 Confederations Cup.  Never mind that vuvuzela had been used in Latin America and South Africa for years. To get Mike & Mike to talk about the vuvuzela on their ESPN morning show means that it must have made an impact.

Interestingly, the reaction of FIFA (the governing body for international football) was to ban them, not because of the noise, but because European hooligans might use them as weapons. Despite that, FIFA let them stay in the interests of presenting soccer in South Africa as it should be.

Flash forward to the 2010 World Cup. Just three days in, the focus is almost as much on the vuvuzela as it is on the soccer itself. While South Africa’s goalkeeper says the vuvuzelas are not loud enough, we read that European-led FIFA is talking about banning them. Articles are appearing about the vuvuzela in such esteemed information sources as the Christian Science Monitor (against), the Wall Street Journal (for), the Toronto Sun (for), and the Huffington Post (for).

Instead of blaming the controversial soccer ball, as England’s coach did after his goalie gifted the USA a tie, France’s captain Patrice Evra blamed the defenseless vuvuzela. We can’t sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas, he said after France played to an unexpected scoreless tie versus Uruguay.

Bottom line — deal with it. Yes, I hate cowbells. But, if one of the hockey player’s moms thinks it makes a difference, then bring it on. Vuvuzelas are part of football in South Africa. Fans are having fun with them.

I say to ESPN and their announcers – turn up the gain so we can hear you.

I say to Patrice Evra and other players – put your head under your pillow or use one of the sleep machines that pushes out sounds of oceans, birds or thunderstorms.

And lastly, I say to all you entrepreneurs – run, do not walk, to South Africa with cases, pallets or container loads of earplugs.

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