The World’s Sport: In Defense of Vuvuzelas

By Gabe Lezra, Blargus World Cup Specialist
Sunday, June 13, 2010

South African fans with vuvuzelas. marca.com South African fans with vuvuzelas.

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.

Bullshit.

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.

  • Frank W California

    Can you even imagine how horrible it would be to sit in the stadium with a row of vuvuzelas behind you? The atmosphere has been destroyed. If I was to expect that irritating sound to be a normal part of South Africa's atmosphere I would NEVER visit the country. Maybe if they were anything but constantly it would be a different matter. This is a country playing host to a number of nations across the world. Perhaps as responsible hosts they should consider others viewpoints rather than focusing on their own to the complete exclusion of others. Even the Tehran Times got this one right.

  • Jen H Ohio

    Have to agree with Frank. Just because they are hosting the event doesn't give them carte blanche to be obnoxious and disregard all the other countries that are there to participate. I can't imagine being in my hotel room sleeping and being woke up by that thing or having to listen it to it constantly sitting in the stands.

  • The Beagle

    The French captain has asked that vuvuzelas be banned from the tournament -- and he is black.

    So much for the argument that "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."

  • Nyiko (Pretoria, South Africa)

    I attendend the SA/Mexico opening game at Soccer City on Friday. The strangest thing for me was to see that a number of Mexicans fans had bought their own vuvuzelas and were blowing them throughout the match. After the game, I saw a number of people clustered in small groups where South Africans giving Mexican fans instructions on how to blow the vuvuzela. The other suprise came when I saw American, English, Slovenian, Serbian and German fans buying and blowing vuvuzelas at matches. I, personally, also do not like the vuvuzela, I prefer singing at games. However, I don't think I should prescribe how people should enjoy themselves at matches. Thenagain, as Africans, we have come to expect, as a matter of course, such imperialist tendencies from our brothers in the West who believe it is their duty in life to tell us how we should conduct ourselves.

    I may not like the vuvuzela; but I refuse to bow to Western whingings about it. It annoys me that people on the Western hemisphere feel they can always tell us what to do.

  • Ban these horns

    I'm sorry but this is the WORLD CUP not the AFRICAN CUP and even if it's being played there I should be able to enjoy the chants and cheers from teams across the nation. I should not have to sit there hearing an obnoxious buzzing that never goes away, isn't in any form of pattern or signaling anything more than people blowing horns out of sync.

    It's god awful in everyway, and there is nothing positive about it and nothing you can say remotely in it's defense besides "well it's part of South Africa". It's already been linked with hearing loss and possible exposure to germs, players and coaches have complained, tv commentators and networks have complained, sponsors have complained, everyone.

    I can't even hear the national anthem from different countries now... all i hear is this stupid buzz.

    A long with this ridiculous ball, and below average attendance this world cup is looking to be one of the worst in recent memory.

    Good job giving the world cup to S. Africa FIFA.

  • Ban ban ban

    Instead of listening to different chants, cheers, and outpour of emotion from different countries from around the world we are exposed to a constant mood killing buzz... just ridiculous.

    BAN BAN BAN BAN BAN BAN

  • John James

    Now it has started and it's a bug, there are a couple of petitions online to ban the vuvuzela from the World Cup. Here's one:
     http://www.petitiononline.com/2010WC/petition.html

  • Hank

    I like the horns. Sure, it sounds like a swarm of Africanized bees are about to emerge from my TV, but I think it gives the games and the broadcasts a certain energy that can be lacking.

    And let's not pretend that the vuvuzela blowing is the most annoying or disturbing fan behavior. Have you ever watched a game at Azteca in Mexico City? I'll take plastic horns over urine filled balloons any day.

  • Tony Downing

    I like the horns, too. They're warlike and stirring, and that's completely appropriate for a soccer match.

  • E

    @The Beagle:

    Oh, gee, a black guy (who's steeped in European football tradition) doesn't like the vuvuzelas. Go figure. That fact *totally* dismantles Gabe's argument. Because, you know, THOSE PEOPLE always think and act alike - why, you can hardly tell them apart!

    @Ban these horns and ban ban ban:

    One of the core benefits of being a World Cup host is to share your way of enjoying the sport with the world. Are the vuvuzelas annoying? Maybe, but I'll take them over Mexico City's piss balloons and various countries' brawls any day. The horns are just exuberant fun, and you can't drown out fists or urine with earplugs.

    @Frank:

    The "atmosphere" you prefer may have been destroyed, but maybe your way of enjoying a game isn't the only one, and maybe you're not running the show. Perhaps as a responsible outsider you should consider their viewpoint, eh?

    @Jen:

    My God, the inhumanity of commanding the disposable income necessary to fly halfway around the world and stay in a hotel in order to watch a SPORTING EVENT, only to be awoken by revelers with plastic horns. Yea, we have peered into the eternal void, and it is darker than the heart of a beehive.

    Bottom line: earplugs are cheap; buy some if you need them. Each World Cup is different, and you'll soon have a chance to watch one that's more to your liking. The fact that you don't enjoy or understand something isn't sufficient to render it invalid. Much as it may appear to the contrary to some of us, the world doesn't always conform itself to your desires.

  • TGD

    Rock on Bro....Long live the Vuvu...This hit the nail on the head: 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.

    So absurd.

  • Nate6

    E, I don't think FIFA is ok with piss balloons.

  • Rorschach

    @E

    At what point did this vuvu controversy become about imposing Western ideals? They're just straight annoying and not in the same way a taunting chant is.

    At first, the horns are quite awesome, setting a warlike tone indeed. But the vuvu gets annoying quick, and the casual fan is CERTAINLY detoured by this LAZY FORM OF CHEERING!

  • TeeJay

    After all this time of having to just eat it whichever way the world hands it to us in every sphere, you guys have no idea the sheer joy it brings to be able to do something that really upsets so many non-Africans. It's almost like we deliberately came up with something that would get the developed world really cross, but stop short of starting a war.

    It's the best opportunity to say to people who would like to order us about: "Really? Whatcha gonna do 'bout it?"

    The person commenting here who said we should be sensitive to other needs because this is a WORLD cup not an African cup: Dude, are you serious??

    If it's just so intolerable, make a choice: mute the volume, turn off the TV, go do something else -- it doesn't matter what, just go.

    The best response is the T-shirt with an image of one vuvuzela underneath the words "Blow Me".

  • cmac

    If the world cup were ever to be played in Scotland, perhaps everyone should be given a set of bag-pipes. Purely to celebrate the Scottish culture of course.

  • Joseph

    To me the whole thing is just kind of sad. Sure the vuvuzelas are mildly annoying to me, but more importantly, they deprive the South Africans of the true World Cup experience of the unique chants, songs, and rhythms of the different supporters.

    The most ridiculous aspect of it all is that a few agenda-driven individuals managed to immediately seize the moral high ground and asserted that the vuvuzelas were part of some sort of great cultural tradition, while simultaneously convincing the populace that the evil, paternalistic first worlders were trying to yet again assert dominance and take away their "traditions." In actuality, there's significant debate over how much of a treasured tradition it really is. Seriously, look into it and do a little research. The mass production of vuvuzelas occurred in the last decade and many native South Africans dispute the traditional value of the instruments.

    Because of the way the debate was framed, individuals such as Sepp Blatter and this blog's author bought into the "21st century colonialism" argument hook line and sinker, out of some desperate need to seem progressive I suppose, and to hear them talk now, it's as if Mandela and co. were defiantly blowing them on Robben Island every evening before they went to bed.

    In any event, I don't particularly like the vuvuzelas, but it'll take a lot more than that to "ruin" my World Cup. I'm not sure that's possible, short of canceling the event itself. Like I said before though, it's too bad that the mindless din is detracting the once in a lifetime opportunity for the home fans to experience the diverse traditions of the visiting fans. For example, I can only assume the rhythm of the samba will be completely drowned out when Brazil take the field this evening, and that's a far bigger tragedy than any annoyance caused by the vuvuzelas themselves.

  • Henry

    Here's the thing, and I'll be clear:

    Horn = Thundersticks = Lame way to be loud without actually having to work. They're BS, and they're weak -- PEDs for fans that feel the need to be demonstrative but without having to, you know, yell. Man up, you wusses. Scream, or sit down.

    That said, you can't ban them. Let people turn the sound off -- it's what I've done, which has the unfortunate side effect of not allowing me to hear any of the commentary and rendering the whole thing entirely un-international for me. It's just more football, which is fine, but no accents from commentators, no songs i've never heard before from foreign fans -- so if the idea is that part of this is about cultural understanding, it's had precisely the opposite effect. Still, it beats listening to bees for 90 minutes.

    To repeat: athletes run, and adults yell. Thundersticks and horns are children's toys. They shouldn't be banned, but if anyone's operating under the impression that the buzz is not undermining the experience, I mean, you're free not to care that it is, but it is. Lame lame lame lame. Fans YELL.

  • John

    The bigger problem seems to be the people in the stands are vuvuzelas with no relationship to what's going on down on the field -- it's just 90 minutes (plus injury stoppage time) of non-stop horn blowing. Even with the annoying thundersticks that the Angels fans started, their use was connected to something going on during the game the fans were watching.

    (Of course, if you were lucky enough to be in Madison Square Garden 40 years ago for New York Ranger games, a wonderful new device call the portable air horn made a bit of a racket, especially in the people sitting in the row behind you happened to have 3-4 of them. Even the vuvuzela isn't as bad as 12,000 air horns going off in an enclosed building.)

  • Gabe Lezra

    Joseph--

    It's a bit odd to say that I'm buying into some neo-paternalist, "21st Century Colonialist" interpretation of the vuvus. In fact, I'd say that it's the exact opposite: I'm trying to reject the imposition of a western "ideal soccer" on other countries, particularly South Africa. The thunderstick example is actually really enlightening, because it's a lot like the vuvus: we should think about how we would feel if some international body told us we couldn't use thundersticks (or air horns, etc.).

    The problem with rejecting my argument because I'm "desperately trying to seem progressive" is that it actually glosses over the problematic undercurrents involved in this situation, and seems a bit mean-spirited. If you have a problem with people trying to point out this kind of thing, then maybe you should examine your own views instead of throwing out silly insults.

    Anyways: I think that both vuvus and chanting/yelling/singing are fun, wonderful ways of celebrating the sport. I just think it's not FIFA's place to impose which one of these is "better" than another.

  • Joseph

    I'm sorry that you felt insulted. That wasn't my intent, so apologies for that. I was simply commenting on what I feel is somewhat lazy commentary, that is, assuming that there is are "problematic undercurrents" at play here when that isn't necessarily the case.

    As I said before, there's considerable debate in South Africa itself about whether the vuvuzelas actually represent South African soccer "tradition," and there is significant evidence that they have not come into use until the last decade. However, once the specter of colonialism was raised, they suddenly became the very symbol of modern South African identity.

    You suggest that rejecting the undercurrent of racism or colonialism is mean-spirited or narrow-minded. I would counter that comparing criticism of the vuvuzelas to centuries of shameful exploitation of Africa in the form of colonialism, or more specifically, the subjugation of South Africans through the brutality of apartheid, is extremely patronizing. Sometimes a vuvuzela is just a vuvuzela.

    For the record, I think thundersticks are equally inane, would certainly have no problem with anyone who managed to banish them from professional sports stadia. I think the vuvuzelas are here to stay, mainly because I think it's impossible to "put the genie back in the bottle" once it becomes an issue of racism and/or developed world vs. developing world. I just don't think it ever should've been framed that way in the first place.

    Like I said before though, while they're a mild annoyance they won't come close to ruining my World Cup. As a veteran of 3 World Cups in the past, my biggest regret is for the South African fans who won't get to experience the diverse, unique experience of the way the many different countries support their teams, because that aspect of it is pretty much drowned out.

  • Shawn

    "If I was to expect that irritating sound to be a normal part of South Africa's atmosphere I would NEVER visit the country."

    What an idiotic statement. Do you think that all South Africans blow vuvuzelas everywhere, 24/7?

  • Anonymous

    vuvuzelas are some bullshit!! there is nothing in it!! damn this thing....

  • Anonymous

    i wouldnt agree with the guy who made that statement but that's what it seems... you all be playing vuvuzelas 24/7!! that's crazy...

  • Arthur Hinty

    Americans: Visit ArthurHinty.com to see how you can easily make your own vuvuzela for less than three bucks!

    No third-world sweatshop workers need to be harmed in the making of your vuvuzela!

  • Greg

    Vuvuzela's are loud, annoying, and drown out certain sounds that people like to hear when they watch soccer. Banning them would make the experience of watching the World Cup more enjoyable for the vast majority of the world.

    Until someone convinces me that this is not the case, I will continue to support their ban. All other arguments I've heard are academic.

  • http://blog.networkedinsights.com/index.php/2010/06/world-cup-2010-report-2/ Networked Insights » World Cup 2010, Report #2

    [...] love. In fact according to the online conversations, banning vuvuzelas would be the equivalent of outlawing English chanting, or songs, during a match. Vuvuzela defenders note that the instrument has played an important role throughout [...]

  • http://blog.networkedinsights.com/world-cup-2010-report-2/ World Cup 2010, Report #2 : Networked Insights

    [...] love. In fact according to the online conversations, banning vuvuzelas would be the equivalent of outlawing English chanting, or songs, during a match. Vuvuzela defenders note that the instrument has played an important role throughout [...]