For those who don't ride on the crest of every Internet-football-hot-topic wave, the unrelenting foghorn-esque noise you have heard at World Cup games is produced by an instrument known as a vuvuzela -- a three-foot-long plastic trumpet traditionally blown throughout games to create an atmosphere. However, by pumping out sound up to 130 decibels -- 10 decibels above the human pain threshold -- they also are associated with causing hearing loss and communication problems on the pitch.
Some 20 years after being introduced to the game in the early 1990s, the instrument came to prominence on the world stage during the 2009 Confederations Cup. TV stations were upset by the "goat being slaughtered" timbre, while players complained that they couldn't hear themselves think over the din. "It doesn't allow you to concentrate and it's unbearable," Spanish player Xabi Alonso said at the time. FIFA head honcho Sepp Blatter, however, pooh-poohed calls to ban the vuvuzela for World Cup 2010, insisting that we should not attempt to "Europeanize" the African tournament.
As expected, the vuvu has caused quite a kerfuffle at WC 2010 thus far. The drone has been giving TV networks and commentators grief, and FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke has reportedly toyed with the idea of handing out free earplugs in stadiums to avoid the barrage of lawsuits from the newly hard of hearing.
World Cup organizing committee head Danny Jordaan addressed the issue Sunday, and refused to rule out a ban. From the AFP:
"We have asked for no vuvuzelas during national anthems or during stadium announcements. I know it's a difficult question," he added, saying that "we're trying to manage the best we can.
"We heard from the broadcasters and individuals and it's something we are evaluating on an on-going base.
Jordaan told the BBC in an interview that he had to consider the option of banning the trumpets.
"If there are grounds to do so, yes," he said, asked if a ban was an option.
France captain Patrice Evra added fuel to the fire, claiming that the vuvuzela is the reason his side were so awful on Friday night:
"We can't sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from 6 a.m. We can't hear one another out on the pitch because of them."
The vuvuzela is clearly much more than an irritating novelty; it's a divisive issue that is threatening the health of fans, affecting the quality of performances and ultimately putting people off of tuning in (will you honestly feel enthused to watch Slovakia vs. Paraguay knowing you'll have to endure 90 minutes of the sound of an angry beehive going through a blender?).
[Video: A closer look at the vuvuzelas]
Yet at the same time, Blatter is right (for once) when he says we should not impose Western values on South Africa. A ban would rob the tournament of part of its cultural identity, leaving thousands of locals perplexed: could you imagine being told by an international body that you could no longer drink beer at American football games, or fall asleep during baseball? The South Africans wouldn't take too kindly to having a national institution removed.
As a compromise, perhaps the vuvuzela could be adapted so it isn't quite so loud? Or maybe it could be adjusted to produce a nice noise like the sound of John Mayer gargling honey?
- Sepp Blatter