This ain't the Battle of Jericho

Peter
Peter Jackson
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OK. So you go to this whopping big party and everyone's pumped. You're greeted at the door by a crowd blowing those noisemaker horns.

"Fwaaarp," they honk. You pump your fist in the air: "Yeah! Let's par-tay!"

You grab a cold one and go greet some friends. But you can't hear them because the noisemakers won't stop.

OK. So you go to this whopping big party and everyone's pumped. You're greeted at the door by a crowd blowing those noisemaker horns.

"Fwaaarp," they honk. You pump your fist in the air: "Yeah! Let's par-tay!"

You grab a cold one and go greet some friends. But you can't hear them because the noisemakers won't stop.

"Fwaaarp!"

You want to dance, but you can't hear the music.

"Fwaaarp!" go the horns.

"Fwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarp!"

Sound familiar? That's right. Welcome to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

South African soccer fans are accustomed to bringing metre-long horns called vuvuzelas to their games. Made of plastic, the horns emit a loud, monotone (B-flat, or thereabouts). They're said to be a bit of a workout for the lips and lungs, but frequent use has graced the locals with powerful breath and a sturdy embouchure.

Now, I've come to like soccer - or football, as it's called almost everywhere else in the world. I'm not a devout fan, although I was a decent goalie in school. But in the past 10 years or so, I've caught the World Cup bug.

It is a beautiful game, without a doubt. You have to admire a sport in which a player can be cited for being a bit too crotchety. A clumsy, opponent-toppling stretch for the ball can earn you a yellow card. One more stunt like that and you're out of the game.

In our own favourite winter sport, you can crush someone into a wooden board at 30 miles an hour and not even merit a raised eyebrow.

Many people find soccer boring, mainly because goals are few and far between. But when you see the passion on the players' faces when they do score, it's worth every minute.

I've felt the excitement as Brazil's Ronaldo rushes for the net. I've seen David Beckham bend a penalty shot over the heads of blockers and into the net. And I saw France's Zinedine Zidane, in the last few minutes of his final game in 2006, swivel around and headbutt a trash-talking Italian player square in the chest. The bizarre moment tainted the record of an otherwise stellar player.

But I've never seen - or heard, rather - anything as bizarre as a stadium full of vuvuzelas drowning out everything but the national anthems.

The debate rages on over these torture devices. South Africans and non-native apologists insist the world should embrace the unique cultural experience, Others, particularly Europeans and North Americans, say the constant blare is distracting the players and ruining it for fans.

Imagine the sound of a hornet's nest amplified over a million-watt PA system. That's basically what it's like. The horns register about 110 decibels just a couple of metres away from the bell, so the sound can be, quite literally, deafening. Watching it on TV, you can barely hear the play-by-play, let alone the crowd, over the relentless drone.

Associated Press writer John Leicester is attending the games, sitting at ground zero. He put it best in an article over the weekend:

"At the very least, South Africa should ensure that the hundreds of millions of visitors who come in goodwill to its door, both in person and via the magic of television, do not go home with a migraine."

As Leicester points out, crowd noise is an integral part of soccer. You want to hear those wild cheers, the saucy chants and the mass intake of breath when a goalie makes a spectacular save.

Personally, I've never been big on noise. When I was a toddler, I was terrified of a loud street generator at a nearby construction site. As a baby, I occasionally even cried when my mother sang to me. (My father claims it's because she was singing Bartok.)

But when you're at a sporting event, you expect some noise. "Make some noise!" the video screens plead at hockey games. A game devoid of shouts, cheers and chants would be downright eerie.

The sound of horns peppered throughout the crowd is not unusual. But the constant, mind-numbing buzz of the vuvuzelas is way over the top. The only thing worse would be if someone carted a couple of jet engines into the stands and fired them up to full throttle. There, that should shut those vuvuzelas up.

Noise pollution is not the only concern, in fact. The sea of vuvuzelas may also pose other health risks.

Imagine all that saliva turned into an aerosol and spewed into the stands and onto the field. A team of scientists in hazmat suits and high-pressure sprayers couldn't do a better job of spreading viruses.

As I write, I've learned that World Cup CEO Danny Jordaan has decided not to impose a ban on the horns. I can see his dilemma, given that he'd be quashing a beloved tradition of the host country.

But South Africans themselves may want to consider whether the huffing and puffing is really worth the grief. It will definitely be a factor in any future decision to let them host the cup again.

Leicester ends his weekend column with a simple plea.

"Please, South Africa, make them stop. Give us a song, instead."

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: FIFA, Associated Press

Geographic location: Jericho, South Africa, Brazil France

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Recent comments

  • Jeff
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Is this guy for real? FIFA and everyone else who follows soccer knew in advance, this particular cultural tradition of south African soccer fans. Yet, they were awarded the 2010 World Cup. Tell Montreal Canadiens fans to stop shouting Ole 5 minutes into the game as well. Suck it up people. They are the host nation. We are just visitors. And to liken the vuvuzelas to tortue devices. I'm sure the people of south Africa would not appreciate the comparison. If you see Jackson at a local sporting event, make sure to keep your cheering to a minimum. His hearing aid may not be able to take it.

  • W
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    (My father claims it's because she was singing Bartok.)

    = = =

    You owe me a new glass of milk.

  • Jeff
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Is this guy for real? FIFA and everyone else who follows soccer knew in advance, this particular cultural tradition of south African soccer fans. Yet, they were awarded the 2010 World Cup. Tell Montreal Canadiens fans to stop shouting Ole 5 minutes into the game as well. Suck it up people. They are the host nation. We are just visitors. And to liken the vuvuzelas to tortue devices. I'm sure the people of south Africa would not appreciate the comparison. If you see Jackson at a local sporting event, make sure to keep your cheering to a minimum. His hearing aid may not be able to take it.

  • W
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    (My father claims it's because she was singing Bartok.)

    = = =

    You owe me a new glass of milk.