South Africa World Cup: What's worse, the vuvuzelas or the whining about them?

Calls to ban the long, plastic horns called vuvuzelas from the South Africa World Cup are increasing as players, coaches, fans, and announcers complain about how distracting they are.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
THE CULPRIT: Players, fans, and coaches at the South Africa World Cup are complaining about the noise created by vuvuzelas, or long, plastic horns. South African fans like the ones pictured at left play them incessantly at the matches and say they are integral to the South African soccer experience.

How do I compare thee, oh vuvuzela? A swarm of bees, perhaps, or a runaway freight train tearing through the inside of one’s cranium.

Local South Africans call the arm’s length plastic trumpet part of their soccer tradition, saying it gives their players an advantage. Outsiders, including the world's best player, Argentina's Lionel Messi, and even a few South Africans, consider the vuvuzela a nuisance that should be banned from the South Africa World Cup. A stadium full of vuvuzelas drowns out the bands and songs of other visiting nations, they argue.

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Gift, a Zimbabwean migrant who sells vuvuzelas and national flags on a street corner in Johannesburg, has the merchant’s natural dislike of strong opinions.

Personally, he dislikes vuvuzelas. But he’s happy to sell them.

“I think they should be banned, because in Zimbabwe at football matches, we sing songs, we dance, and here, with the vuvuzelas playing, eh, you can’t hear anything,” says Gift, who won’t give his full name. That said, he has already sold out today’s stock of vuvuzelas by noontime, and he doesn’t think World Cup organizers could get rid of vuvuzela even if they tried. “Everyone has them now, even the Europeans. So I don’t think they can ban them.”

A weekend into the World Cup, and the calls to ban vuvuzelas are starting to get louder.

Players complain they have trouble communicating with each other. Doctors say the vuvuzela can damage one’s hearing. Fans from other countries who love nothing more than a rousing national anthem to give their boys a little spirit on the field say they are getting, well, blown away.

Steve Bloomfield, author of Africa United, and a blogger here in South Africa for the World Cup, says the trumpets should be banned in the spirit of cultural diversity.

“The World Cup should be a celebration of difference,” writes Mr. Bloomfield in today’s blog, also entitled Africa United. “A time when we get a glimpse of countries and cultures we know little about. And if Bafana fans stop blowing their vuvuzelas perhaps they’ll be able to give us a few renditions of the incredibly moving ‘Shosholoza’ instead.”

Simon Williamson, a local journalist and blogger, begs to differ.

“Dear Europeans, Cristiano Ronaldo and whingy white South Africans,” he writes in his own blog, Kingsimon. “For the last few days, I hear you have been complaining about the noise of the vuvuzelas at games. As we've been blowing them consistently since Thursday night we haven't been able to hear you whining until now.”

He says more, but much of it can’t be printed in a family newspaper. Ag, shame.

For the record, a final decision has not been made. Danny Jordaan, the chairman of the local World Cup organizing committee, told BBC on Sunday that a ban was certainly possible.

“We've tried to get some order. We did ask them [not to play] vuvuzelas during national anthems, [and not to play] vuvuzelas when anyone is making an announcement or talking. I know it's difficult, but we try and manage as best we can," he said. "We've heard from the broadcasters and other individuals. It's something that we're evaluating on an ongoing basis."

South Africans certainly are fond of their vuvuzelas, but clearly anything that’s plastic and made in China is anything but deeply cultural. Yet, if the reaction on Twitter is a guide, vuvuzelas have become a symbol of national pride.

“After 1 weekend Europe wants to ban the vuvuzela,” writes South African comedian Trevor Noah. “If only they acted this fast when banning slavery.”

“If they ban the vuvuzela, Danny Jordaan would have sold out on Africa,” writes another Twitter user, Tendai Joe.

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