This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
A week into the World Cup and you would think the unusual number of low-scoring games would be the bad rap so far. After all, at least for American sports fans, 90 minutes of running back and forth ending in a 0-0 tie, is precisely what has relegated soccer to the fringes of the mainstream and it’s the event magnitude of the World Cup each four years that gives hope that the sport will at last draw that mainstream in. However, so far, this cup has produced the lowest per-game goals since 1978, a mere 1.64 average per game. A number of the players, especially goalies, are blaming the low scoring on the ball’s unpredictability. The Jabulani, as the ball designed specifically for the Cup is called, has a long list of specifications, such as eight thermally bonded panels that supposedly render the ball rounder. But players universally complain that the Jabulani, especially a in long flight, is difficult to judge. They’re not tracking it perfectly in the air and they’re not accurately predicting where it’s going to land. Would-be goals are missed because of the poor timing caused by the Jabulani’s unpredictability.
Well, you would think the low scores would be the story to date in South Africa, but no….THE overriding story is the Vuvuzela. Game commentary can’t be heard, players can’t hear each other, and television viewers are subjected throughout each game to a constant 90-minute din from the yard-long plastic horns, beloved to South African soccer fans, called the vuvuzelas.
We should have been prepared for the vuvuzela frenzy. On the very day South Africa was awarded the World Cup, May 15, 2004, 20,000 of the horns sold like hot cakes on the streets there. As annoying as the one-note B-flat drone is, officials defend the prideful history of the horn that runs deep, back to its ancestor, called the kudu horn, blown to announce meetings in African villages. One could argue that noise-makers are popular throughout the sports world, from the Brazilian soccer fans’ horn, called the corneta, to the air horn, used by both European soccer fans and Americans, especially in hockey, to Thundersticks (long, narrow plastic balloons that you clap together) first created in Korea and made the rage by Angels fans during the 2002 World Series.
But the difference in the vuvuzelas is that the fans during this Cup don’t wait for a big moment, a near-goal or a perceived wrong ref’s call. This is an absolute constant, an indiscriminate steady noise that doesn’t reflect the ebb-and-flow drama of the game. You can’t hear the crowd’s emotions. The horns have been just as loud and just as constant through the Opening Ceremonies and each game’s National Anthems so the blowing is obviously not an expression of passion for inspiring moments of play itself.
According to the U.S. government, ears exposed to anything over 100 decibels for two hours can lead to permanent hearing damage. The noise level of the vuvuzelas at the Cup peaks at around 144 decibels. What if an emergency evacuation announcement were issued?
Perhaps I sound like an old-timer who can’t tolerate the young-uns’ loud rock music, but the loud, prolonged vuvuzela b-flat drone is literally eating into my enjoyment of this World Cup.
How about you? Do the vuvuzelas bother you? Weigh in at KCRW.com/TheScore.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that’s The Score.
Banner image: South Africa fans blow Vuvuzela's ahead of the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group A match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City Stadium on June 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images