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One of the few times I really pay any real attention to what is going on in the world of soccer is every four years during the month-long World Cup tournament.  Even then, it is a passing interest, but I do read the coverage fairly religiously each day to one extent or another.  This year there has been an interesting little “tempest in a teapot” type controversy that has surfaced as the tournament opened up in South Africa.

It all centers around the vuvuzela.

I had never even heard the word “vuvuzela” before I began reading the South African World Cup coverage, but apparently the items are a big deal.  They are basically two foot long plastic (or sometimes metal) horns that are a big part of South African soccer fandom.

They are also loud.  Very loud apparently.  They have been known to emit up to 127 decibels.  By way of comparison a drum is usually around 122 and a referee’s whistle is usually 121.8.  They have been connected to noise-induced hearing loss as well.  Newer models claim do have drastically reduced this, down to 20 decibels in fact.

Critics don’t seem to care.

The horns have been described as everything from the sound of a swarm of angry locusts to a goat on the way to the slaughter.  The word “satanic” has even been invoked in some cases.  Players, coaches, broadcasters, and fans have complained that the horns make it impossible to hear what is going on in the stadium.  The BBC reported over 500 complaints from viewers about the fact that the could not hear the game commentary over the horns.  A few coaches have said the constant presence of the horns has made it impossible for their players to get proper rest, resulting in less than top performance on the field.

The arguments of the South African fans and organizers who say that the vuvuzela is a major part of the South African game.  Their argument is that the point of an African World Cup would be lost if the rules sought to “Europinize” the game.  They ask how European nations would feel if their soccer traditions were banned while they hosted the Cup.

All of these arguments have been presented to FIFA, and FIFA decided to allow the horns to remain.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see a game this year, so I can’t say one way or another how bad the noise is from first hand experience.  But, it seems to me that FIFA and the organizers have a point.  I can understand they are disruptive and annoying.  But, FIFA has placed certain limits on their use, particularly on the size of the horns which can affect their volume.  Unless they start using them as weapons or they end up being thrown on the field by angry fans, they are part of the host nation’s culture.  And, after all, isn’t a big part of the World Cup celebrating the shared love of a sport by all the cultures of the world? 

Part of being an athlete at this level is blocking out distractions and focusing on your game.  If you play in South Africa the vuvuzela is part of the deal.

Get over it.

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