An hour after the twenty-minute specials about how hard FIFA was working to make the tournament seem African Nelson Mandela’s time as a political prisoner, the South African and Mexican World Cup teams walked on to the pitch in Johannesburg to the deafening sound of medium-pitched plastic trumpets, vuvuzelas. The South African fans danced around ecstatically, blaring these bizarre instruments as their team danced onto the field–bafana bafana, the boys, danced to the thunderous music of the crowd.
In the past few weeks a few notable people have come out in favor of banning the vuvuzelas, including high-level players like Argentina’s Leo Messi (and, to be fair and balanced), Spain’s Xabi Alonso and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Prior to the Confederations Cup last year FIFA even considered implementing such a ban; but, after the South African Football Association (SAFA) presented a passionate defense of the instrument, FIFA dropped the idea. I’ll give congratulations on this one (for the first time ever) to Sepp Blatter, who said “we should not try to europeanize an African World Cup.” Even if this is an example of FIFA, a European-based organization, trying to give the World Cup an “African” identity, it’s still the right thing to do.
So here we go: I like vuvuzelas. I’ll freely admit it, because later in this article I’m going to make an (“impartial”) argument for why they should be allowed. They’re loud, obnoxious, and aggravating; they irritate the players, the coaches, the refs and (some of) the fans. They sometimes make a grating sound on TV. But guess what: even if their origins aren’t South African (they come, according to Wikipedia, from Mexico–maybe), they still represent an integral part of the way that South Africans enjoy the sport. They’re a part of South Africa’s soccer identity as much as insulting songs are for England (and I definitely heard “God Save the Queen” a couple of times over the vuvuzelas in the England-USA match).
To ban the vuvuzela isn’t just to try to “europeanize” soccer, it’s to insist that there’s a singular way that the game should be played, a particular environment that is the “ideal” form of soccer; banning the vuvuzela suggests that rather than glorifying each nation’s own style of celebrating this very international sport we want nations to conform to a specific archetype of “soccer” that we Europeans/North Americans (and yeah, the implication is “white people”) impose on the sport.
I’d be all for a ban on these instruments if people were using them to injure, or attack, or maim other fans. But they’re not. People are using the vuvuzelas to celebrate the World’s Sport in their own way. Banning vuvuzelas would be similar to having a Spanish, or French, or Chinese governing body insist that Americans stop playing “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” over the speakers during basketball games; or maybe having the same governing body ban air horns, loudspeakers, or even signs during football or baseball games. Not cool, right?
Soccer isn’t about exporting particular ideas of how to play, how to watch, or how to celebrate the game; it’s about reveling in each country’s–hell, each person’s–celebrations, and celebrating together. The sport isn’t a Euro-centric game, no matter how much we pretend it is in club competition, and banning the vuvuzela is arguing that the way these specific fans celebrate is wrong; we’re saying that they need to watch the game like we do, that they need to love the game like we do.
Even if the vuvuzela does make playing the game “harder” on some fundamental level, I can’t imagine that it makes it any harder than listening to insulting, violent, or even racist chants during games. The jabulani ball apparently is hard to deal with also, but these players are professionals, and are payed to deal with that. And they’re payed to deal with loud crowds, no matter what devices these crowds use.
So stop complaining about the vuvuzelas and celebrate the beauty of the game, and what’s more, celebrate the history that this World Cup symbolizes. And FIFA, don’t let me down again.