Vuvuzelas at the 2010 World Cup

If you’ve tuned in to the 2010 World Cup on television, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz of the vuvuzelas (also known as lepatatas). The vuvuzelas are these (arguably) annoying blow horns used by spectators during the football matches (or soccer, for all of you U.S. and Australian folk).

No doubt the vuvuzela is a distinctly South African cultural icon and even a tradition at football games:

The vuvuzela has become part of the official South African football fans arsenal. It is a plastic trumpet which makes a distinctive noise, comparable to an elephant blowing their trunk. A stadium can often erupt with noise from fans blowing on their vuvuzelas. The South African Football Association, in a community-building project, has helped manufacture the coloured plastic trumpet.

However, after less than a full weekend of play, the players, coaches, and commentators have expressed vociferous concern that the vuvuzelas are a major distraction. After watching the games throughout the weekend, I have to say that it was hard to make out what the commentators were saying during certain parts of the game; I can’t imagine what it’s actually like on the pitch. There are nearly 200,000 people in this Facebook group who are in favor of banning the vuvuzelas. But I think a closer scrutiny is required. Why is the vuvuzela an object of such pervasive complaint?

A Closer Look

The most elucidating article I read (which relates to this whole vuvuzela saga) is this one from The Science of Sport blog. The most interesting passage is this one, explaining how loud the vuvuzelas are:

Studies have found that the noise levels from a vuvuzela exceed what are considered safe limits for employees.  A Swiss-based company’s testing showed that at its loudest, the sound registered 127 dB, compared to a chainsaw at 100 dB.

Studies show that prolonged exposure to loud noises (!) leads to hearing loss; that hearing loss occurs at a loudness level of around 120 dB. So given the information above, you cannot doubt the frustration everyone is expressing about these “instruments of distraction.” Also of note: The OSHA Daily Permissible Noise Level Exposure is 110dB for a half-hour and 115dB for a quarter hour; given this information, the length of the football matches, and the confirmed loudness of the vuvuzelas, it is almost certain that the vuvuzelas are dangerous to the spectators’ health (i.e., great potential for hearing loss).

But perhaps even more alarming is that the vuvuzelas may be a vessel for disease (spreading of germs):

And then on a perhaps even more serious note, there are concerns over the spread of infection and illness as a result of 30,000 people blowing into the horn in an enclosed space.  South Africa has one of the highest tuberculosis (TB) infection rates in the world, and it is spread through droplets, usually when coughing, spitting or sneezing.

So, with all these considerations in mind, the calls to ban the vuvuzelas have become even more poignant over the last few days; nevertheless, the vuvuzelas making headlines isn’t new… About a year ago, FIFA gave the vuvuzelas the green light for the 2010 World Cup.

The South Africans, apparently, love these things:

Let us not make this a South Africa instrument alone…A vuvuzela is now an international instrument. People buy them and stuff them in their suitcase to go home. Only a minority are against vuvuzelas. You either love them or hate. We in South Africa love them.

The comments in this 2009 BBC piece are divisive; it seems that some people are vehemently opposed to the vuvuzelas:

It is irritating, annoying and juvenile. It is noise for noise sake alone. The vuvuzela should be banned. Music, drums, rhythmic percussion, singing, chanting and applause are all very welcome; but the onerous, droning cacophony of the vuvuzela adds nothing to the atmosphere of the stadium.

This instrument has great nuisance value, and should be banned outright. Failing that, its use should be restricted to the confines of the stadium

While others are quite supporting of the vuvuzelas:

There is no way you can just come and rob people of their own pride and customs. If you don’t know it, learn more about it. Surely they have more irritating things like name calling our African players back in Europe. Viva Vuvuzela!

The Vuvuzela is a matter of pride (and religion) for some of us on the African continent and we will not allow our enjoyment of a once-in-lifetime event be overshadowed by someone watching the games from their living room in Europe.

A Recommendation and Final Thoughts

So where do I stand on this issue? I say: don’t ban the vuvuzelas, but FIFA must absolutely do something about controlling the noise level. Here’s one idea: don’t allow the fans to bring in the vuvuzelas into the stadium. Rather, give away the vuvuzelas to the first 1,000 (or whatever limited number, perhaps up to 10,000) fans who enter the stadium. Such a move will work because it will at once restrain the overall noise in the stadium and make the fans more excited to come to the matches early. It’s a win-win situation for all: vuvuzelas are still permitted at the matches, but the noise level is under control…

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think the vuvuzelas should be banned? What do you think of limiting the number of vuvuzelas permitted inside the stadiums?

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