They are plastic, noisy and cost no more than a few bucks. And they are, sadly, sabotaging the World Cup.
The constant droning of the vuvuzela – the traditional South African horn that has been a permanent backdrop to this tournament – is becoming such an annoyance to fans, players and television viewers that soccer’s governing body is considering drastic action.
According to a source who has regular contact with top World Cup officials, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke and World Cup organizing committee chief Danny Jordaan will hold fresh talks over the next few days to discuss whether to reverse policy and implement a vuvuzela ban.
Remarkably, in a tournament involving the finest, richest and most controversial soccer stars on the planet and a misbehaving soccer ball, the most-discussed issue has revolved around a brightly colored plastic instrument so simple that a child could blow it.
It takes a lot to distract the world from the event it has waited four years and focus on something so apparently trivial, yet tortured eardrums and pounding headaches have done just that only four days into the month-long World Cup.
Supporters everywhere have reacted angrily to the continuous use of the horns, which have been heard on television broadcasts every second of the games so far. But the problem for soccer’s loyal fans is not so much the ever-present buzz – enterprising locals have made a small fortune by selling earplugs to help drown out the sound for those in attendance. It is more about what is missing, namely the typical color and atmosphere that is normally seen at top-level matches.
Because the vuvuzelas create a wall of sound, there has been little of the usual chanting, singing and roaring that are a staple of soccer games everywhere else in the world. Even the fans of the England national team, normally among the loudest in international soccer, could not bring themselves to muster their usual diet of boisterous chants and songs during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the United States, effectively admitting defeat to the almighty horn.
Furthermore, players admit they have struggled to concentrate amid the noise and there have been regular communication problems among teammates. Slovenia’s Samir Handanovic and Marko Suler screamed furiously at each other in their team’s victory over Algeria following a mixup that almost led to a goal for their opponent.
“It is impossible to communicate,” said Argentina’s Lionel Messi, the world’s best player. “It is like being deaf.”
Some fans might already be thinking that deafness is not such a bad option compared to the incessant aural assault they are currently suffering through. The vuvuzela, which is made to replicate the call of an elephant, comes across as a drone on television. In real life, though, the noise reaches 144 decibels, equivalent to the sound made by a passenger jet.
Also, vuvuzelas come with only one sound, one pitch. Fans blow them as hard as they can during dead periods of action as they do after a thrilling moment, so there is none of the inspirational roar from fans that urges an attack from their team. None of the imaginative and patriotic chants are sung to light up games. None of the childish yet always amusing crescendo aimed at increasing a goalkeeper’s nerves as he steps up to take a goal kick is heard.
Portugal plays its first match Tuesday. The team – which played in the Confederation Cup in South Africa last summer – knows what awaits them. And it’s not happy about it.
“There is something missing,” star Cristiano Ronaldo said. “I like the atmosphere of football; it is beautiful. This is not beautiful.”
There is an argument that this is South Africa’s event and the rest of the world should adapt. But this is more than a South African event. The World Cup is a truly global spectacle – and the world is making itself heard that it doesn’t want its ears bashed any longer.