Vuvuzela controversy solved? A quieter vuvuzela

Vuvuzela factory owner Neil van Schalkwyk says he sells vuvuzelas that are quieter than the deafening horns stirring up controversy at the World Cup. Even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are complaining about the sound.

Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters
A Portugal fan blows the vuvuzela ahead of the 2010 World Cup Group G soccer match between Ivory Coast and Portugal at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth Tuesday.

Neil van Schalkwyk says he has the answer to the droning noise that many fans and players say is ruining the World Cup: A quieter vuvuzela.

The Cape Town businessman has produced vuvuzelas, in the colors of every World Cup team, with a redesigned mouthpiece that reduces the tuneless horn's sound output from a deafening 134 decibels to a more manageable 121 decibels, and says he was delighted by a decision today not to ban the popular plastic horns.

Mr. Van Schalkwyk says pressure to ban them was an affront to South African football culture and sent the wrong message to domestic fans.

IN PICTURES: 10 World Cup players to watch and Vuvuzela overload

His company Masincedane Sport is making 2.5 million vuvuzelas this year. He worked on the new design with a German company after criticism from foreign teams and coaches at last year’s Confederations Cup.

"We think this quieter version will be a hit among fans," says van Schalkwyk.

Controversy grows

But the vuvuzela controversy only seems to be growing louder. Even 121 decibels is still louder than the average loud rock concert, and sustained exposure may result in hearing loss. At a World Cup match, with thousands of vuvuzelas blowing extra hard, the sound may rise above 140 decibels, which is on par with a gun blast and enough to cause damage even from short exposure, according to a study by the South African Association for Audiologists.

Television audiences around the world have complained about the din from the horn, which critics liken to a herd of trampling elephants or swarms of bees. The BBC is thinking of offering ‘clean’ coverage of the games by stripping out the background noise in stadiums.

Spain’s Xabi Alonso, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, and the Japanese football team have all previously complained that the sound makes communication on the pitch impossible – a complaint echoed by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi during this World Cup.

“I know Ronaldo has said it makes it difficult on the pitch but it didn’t seem to hurt the Germans who looked inspired against Australia. I think foreign people will grow to love the vuvuzela as much as we do,” says van Schalkwyk.

Employs locals, breaks on impact

As well as being quieter, van Schalkwyk’s vuvuzela is easy to pack and breaks on impact, because it is made of three parts that snap together. This has pleased local police, as vuvuzela's are sometimes used as weapons.

Plus, van Schalkwyk’s factory employs locals. Unlike many others on sale which are imported mainly from China, his vuvuzela is made at a factory in Cape Town.

On Sunday, the tournament’s South African organizing committee chairman, Danny Jordaan, said officials might ban vuvuzelas if they were used to drown out national anthems or thrown on the pitch. FIFA later said vuvuzelas are here to stay. “Vuvuzelas will not be banned from the stadia,” spokesman Stan Schaffner told reporters.

He was supported by local organizing committee chairman Rich Mkhondo. “They characterize the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and they will remain so, just as much as other World Cups like the one in Mexico had their own way of celebrating the beautiful game. The vuvuzelas are here to stay and they will never be banned.”

Their exact origins and ownership are disputed but most South Africans accept that it was probably developed from the horn of a Kudu (kind of antelope), which was used to call African tribesmen to gatherings. It was adopted at matches in the 1970s but did not become mainstream until the mid 1990s when they appeared in the colors of local teams such as Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

Mr. van Schalkwyk, a Manchester United fan, said the team-colored horns sell for between R40 ($5) and R60 ($8). “One day I’d like to see my vuvuzelas blown at Premiership games and, who knows, at the Stretford End at Old Trafford,” he says.

IN PICTURES: 10 World Cup players to watch and Vuvuzela overload

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