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Vuvuzelas: what’s wrong with a horny World Cup?

The sound of killjoys lecturing fans on how to support their team is far worse than that South African instrument.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Where do you stand on the vuvuzela? It’s the only question on everyone’s lips. OK, admittedly the ‘Who will win the World Cup?’ question is also on people’s lips. Not to mention the ‘Jeez, how good were Germany?’ question. ‘Did Fabio pick the wrong keeper?’ is a question exercising minds in England. Then there’s the World Cup ball issue. ‘Is the Adidas Jabulani the worst thing ever invented since Zyklon B?’ And of course there is that perennial puzzle: ‘What’s the point of Jim Beglin?’ All valid questions. But none so vexed as the vuvuzela question. Are you for or against? Voulez vouz le vuvuzela?

The vuvuzela is a long plastic horn used by South African football fans to produce an ear-splitting cacophony which has been likened to an angry swarm of bees, a stampede of elephants or, as one South African writer described it, ‘a goat on the way to slaughter’. A couple of weeks ago most of us had never even heard of a ‘vuvuzela’. Now we either love them or loathe them. We either want to own one – Sainsbury’s sold 22,000 on the day of the England v USA game alone. Or else we want them banned. Never has a musical instrument divided the world as much as this humble vuvuzela.

Let’s examine the rap sheet against the vuvuzela horn. It’s too loud, say fans. It drowns out singing or chanting. South African journalist Jon Qwelane blames the vuvuzela for ruining his enjoyment of the beautiful game. ’Nowadays, there is an instrument from hell, called the vuvuzela, which has largely formed my decision to abandon all live games and rather watch on TV, with the sound totally muted.’

Players have said they find the din off-putting. ‘It is difficult for anyone on the pitch to concentrate’, complained Cristiano Ronaldo. Patrice Evra claims that the noise prevents players communicating on the pitch. Notably, England players have not been complaining – though that might be because they don’t bother communicating on the pitch anyway.

Inevitably, the health and safety killjoys have joined the anti-vuvuzela backlash. Some argue that the noise generated by thousands of horns – which has been measured at 127 decibels – is quite literally deafening. One research study suggests that ‘prolonged or regular exposure poses a significant risk for noise-induced hearing loss’. Is there any evidence that South African fans, who have been blowing these horns for years, have actually suffered hearing loss? Er, no, the risk of vuvuzela-induced deafness is entirely hypothetical.

Never mind coughs and sneezes. Vuvuzelas spread diseases – or so it is claimed. ‘Vuvuzelas have the potential to spread colds and flu as a lot of breath goes through the vuvuzela’, argues Dr Ruth McNerney of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Infections could, it is claimed, be spread by the hazardous practice of vuvuzela-sharing. An epidemic waiting to happen? Sounds like a crock of stampeding elephant shit to me. Vuvuzelas are no more likely to spread infections than sitting in an office, travelling on a bus or train, and generally being in proximity of other people.

Do vuvuzelas pose a potential public order hazard? This might sound daft, but the Austrian football authorities have banned the instruments from all stadiums because they ‘can be used as projectiles’ and ‘incite aggressive behaviour amongst other fans’. Although Fifa have rejected calls for the horns to be banned, Danny Jordaan, chair of the World Cup organising committee has said, ‘We have asked for no vuvuzelas during national anthems or during stadium announcements’.

So, those are the charges against the vuvuzela. Do they stack up? I don’t think so. We should oppose all restrictions on the use of vuvuzelas at football. Why? Because there’s no such thing as too much noise at a football match. The whole point is to make a lot of noise. For once I find myself in agreement with Fifa president Sepp Blatter when he said: ‘I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?’

We should defend vuvuzelas not because this is an ancient Zulu tradition which we are duty-bound to respect. It is actually a relatively modern creation. It was supposedly invented in the mid-Seventies by Freddie Maake – a 55-year-old Kaizer Chiefs fan who goes by the nickname ‘Saddam’ for reasons which aren’t entirely clear. Whatever its origins, it’s the way that South African football fans support their team. It’s ludicrous to say that vuvuzelas drown out the atmosphere at football. They are the atmosphere at South African games. It’s just a different way of doing atmosphere. Whether it’s abusive terrace chants, Argentine-style ticker tape or the ear-splitting din of the vuvuzelas, football fans should be free to support their team however they wish.

And if that doesn’t convince you, consider this: during the USA game the vuvuzelas drowned out the wretched England band. Vuvuzelas might damage your hearing but it’s a risk I’ll gladly take if it means I don’t have to listen to their interminable renditions of ‘The Great Escape’.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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