Friday, June 18, 2010

My World Cup, it take me hearing, that damned vuvuzela*

I’m not what you would call a colossal soccer fan.

As a general-purpose sports fan, I enjoy watching an occasional game. I’ll be keeping a semi-close eye on the progress of the U.S. team’s World Cup fortunes. And I’ll likely watch the final game – make that definitely watch the final - if by some Miracle Off Ice “we’re” in it.

But I won’t be keeping a semi-close ear on it, thank you.

No sporting event is worth going deaf for – or catching your death from rhinovirus.

Which is apparently what health officials are warning can happen to fans exposed to a match-full of blaring vuvuzelas.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, the vuvuzela is the long plastic horn - they look a lot like the blarers that folks blow on New Year’s Eve – that South African soccer fans blast away on. Apparently they do so continuously during matches – much to the annoyance of non-vuvuzela aficionados, not to mention the players who can’t hear themselves think. Here’s picture of one in use from Vivienne Mackie’s travel blog.


Viv apparently had her ear to the ground early on with respect to the vuvuzela. Historically banned from World Cup, an exception was made this year because this instrument is so much a part of South African football culture.

Now, of course, with the World Cup on, vuvuzela chatter has been all over the blogosphere, with lots of pro and con back and forthing.  I’ve seen cries of racism, countered by cries of “this will make South Africans look rude”.  Prince William, in South Africa on a royal field trip with one of the Jonas Brothers (huh?), had a vuvuzela blown full force in his heir’s ear by a kid, after he was unable to master the art of noisemaking on his own.

Fans who like the traditional soccer fan chanting, singing, and drumming have found themselves drowned out. And they’re understandably pissed.

There are even calls to FIFA to forbid use of the vuvuzelas in the final match – but FIFA has no plans to do so at this juncture.

Meanwhile, TV broadcasters have been toning the blare down so that watchers can hear the announcers. (This hasn’t been enough for some:  they find the vuvuzela noise so overwhelming, they turn the sound off entirely. There’s even an app on the market that can shut the vuvu noise down.)

Fear is spreading that, now that the vuvus have been on such a center stage, their use will sweep through the soccer universe. (All those hundreds of thousands of souvenir vuvuzelas packed home in the suitcase.)

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the matter, with an article on the dangers that too much trumpeting can bring on when vuvuzela madness is loosed upon the land:

Beyond the stadiums, the horns can be heard from early morning to late at night on South Africa's streets during the World Cup. South African newspapers have reported workplace clashes involving employees blowing the horn. They have caused conflict among bus and train passengers as well.

More important, it seems that all that noise, in addition to being an out and out, head-splitting annoyance to so many, and the cause of off-the-pitch strife:

…can cause hearing loss and possibly spread colds, the flu and other infectious diseases to spectators in stadiums.

A hearing foundation claims that, at 127 decibels, exposure for even a few minutes to vuvuzela noise can cause hearing loss, let alone for the full 90 minutes of a match. (Plus whatever, seemingly arbitrary to the casual observer, over-time gets tacked on the end of a game.)

In an indication of how loud the horns are, the nonprofit Deaf Federation of South Africa has offered sign-language training to coaches and players to help them communicate on a noisy soccer field.

I think I’d be okay with an occasional tootle from a vuvuzela, but I don’t think I’d want to go an entire match with 100,000 in my ear. I find it annoying enough with an occasionally cat-calling jerk sits behind me at a Red Sox game.  (The worst: the guy who kept shouting at the White Sox – who that season sported some goof-ball, soft-ball looking uniforms - “put on your John Wayne trick-or-treat suits.” (Say the f what?)

But the claims of the anti-vuvuzela brigade may be overstated:

The organization hasn't been approached yet by a team, according to Bruno Druchen, its national director [Deaf Federation of South Africa]. No cases of hearing loss from the vuvuzelas have been reported to his organization, he said in an email.

But the biggest problem with the vuvuzela may be those pesky germs:

Blowing hard into vuvuzelas may spray droplets of spittle onto nearby spectators, and with it the flu and other diseases. "We measured what happens when healthy people blow the vuvuzela and were astonished at the number of aerosols formed," said Ruth McNerney of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "If someone with a chest or throat infection uses the vuvuzela in a crowded place then they could spread the infection to people around them."

If nothing else, you don’t want to wrap your mouth around a strange vuvuzela. You don’t know where it’s been, and it may well be infected.

All told, it does sound like you could go to the World Cup and come home deaf, with a bad cold, chicken pox, or even:

…more threatening diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, tuberculosis and the H1N1 swine flu, according to Dr. McNerney."Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, and so might the vuvuzela," she said.

This and the fact that you could have purchased tickets a year ago, only to have your team knocked out in the first round.

Meanwhile, Team USA plays its second match today.

Don’t let those vuvuzelas get to you, boys!


Today’s post is dedicated to my soccer-loving brother-in-law John, who is taking the day off of work to watch the US – Slovenia match. Easy on the vuvuzela, John.

*For those of you too young to remember Harry Belafonte, this is a take off on the song, “Mathilda, she took me money, and run a-Venezuela”, which he publicized in a long ago time, when no one in America had even heard of soccer.

1 comment:

John said...

Ahhh....never had a blog dedication!

Suffice it to say, this is one of the most horrific mistakes in sport history. Banned everywhere else, just as other local traditions like smoke bombs, streamers, and brass knuckles, why oh why are they allowed here? To this, I blame marketers. They were a cheap marketing gimmick (Homer Hanky anyone?) to get the masses in to see their miserable domestic league. This is also the first time I've seen The Wave at a FIFA event, so that's the level of fandom we're dealing with.

I feel terrible for the true fans of their team, who spent thousands to travel on a trip of a lifetime, only to be drowned out. This is a great sport, more akin to chess than sport, and this doesn't help build fanbase. And to this, I'm glad my wife discouraged/banned me four years ago when I had thoughts of traveling with Team USA after all of the wonderful stories and games that Germany provided.

Funny though, for all of the complaining, the sound is quite similar to America's sport of choice: NASCAR. Go figure.

The other tragedy here: the sound is very close to a dog whistle. More poor dog Jack can't be in the room when the games are on. Though it could be my animated color commentary...

Go USA, Kiwis, Socceroos, and Swiss! Gotta love an underdog.