JOHANNESBURG - The constant drone of cheap and tuneless plastic horns is killing the atmosphere at the World Cup.
Where are loud choruses of “Oooohhhs” from enthralled crowds when a shot scorches just wide of the goalpost? And the sharp communal intake of breath, the shrill “Aaahhhhss,” when a goalkeeper makes an acrobatic, match-winning save? Or the humorous/moving/offensive football chants and songs?
Mostly, they’re being drowned out by the unrelenting water-torture beehive hummmmmmmmmmm of South African vuvuzela trumpets. Damn them. They are stripping World Cup 2010 of football’s aural artistry.
Vuvuzela apologists – a few more weeks of this brainless white noise will perhaps change, or melt, their minds – defend the din as simply part of the South African experience. Each country to its own, they say. When in Rome, blah, blah, blah. Get with the par-tee and blow, man.
Which would be fine if this were purely a South African competition. Fans could then legitimately hoot away to their hearts’ content while annoying no one other than their immediate neighbors.
But this is the World Cup, a celebration of the 32 nations that qualified and all that did not, but still play and love the game. Hosting planet football brings responsibilities. 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.
How many TV viewers, longing for a more nuanced soundtrack to go with the show, have already concluded that the only way to enjoy this World Cup is by pressing mute on their remote?
In Tweeting, “No offense to the vuvuzela posse but, man, it’s a bit much,” seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was not alone.
Attending or watching a match should be a feast for the eyes and ears. Those two senses work better together, each augmenting the other.
Sounds should ebb and flow like tides with the fortunes on the field. That adds to the drama. Fans reacting with their voices to action on the pitch, to events in the stadium and to each other’s sounds, songs and chants are part of football’s theater. Outside South Africa, that is.
A sudden crowd silence can also tell a story – perhaps of the heartbreak of a late, defeat-inflicting goal or of the shock of seeing a player horribly injured by a bad tackle. Sometimes, you should even be able to hear a coach bark orders from the touchline or players shouting at each other for the ball.
There are stadium sounds other than vuvuzelas at this World Cup – just not enough of them. They are being bullied into submission by the trumpets’ never-ending screech.
There were scattered unison chants of “In-ger-land, In-ger-land,” a few bars of “God Save the Queen” and the occasional “USA! USA!” when England played the United States on Saturday night. But vuvuzelas ultimately won the battle of the bands. They and the result – a disappointing 1-1 tie – silenced England’s fans, who usually are among the best-drilled noisemakers in football.
They take their singing seriously, with chants that are cheeky, taunting and often insulting. But at least they are inventive.
The same cannot be said of vuvuzelas. They are simply mindless. Their pitch doesn’t change, only the intensity. Blow hard. Blow soft. The range is from horrifically loud to just annoyingly so.
Please, South Africa, make them stop.
Give us a song, instead.