World Cup ready to open in South Africa and vuvuzelas will make plenty of noise

A bright plastic horn called the Vuvuzela could be the defining sound of the upcoming World Cup in South Africa
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Of all the South African sights and sounds that will make the 2010 World Cup unique, none promises to rouse more controversy than the blare of a plastic horn.

Roughly three feet long, the vuvuzela sounds like the elephant trunk it resembles when blown solo. But when blown en masse, as is custom wherever soccer is played in South Africa, it's like a deafening swarm of locusts -- louder than a rock concert, according to one study, but shy of the human threshold for pain.

In the run-up to the World Cup, several coaches and players called for its banning, saying the din made it impossible to communicate on the pitch. Others claimed the vuvuzela posed a health hazard, stood to overwhelm TV broadcasts and was annoying, to boot.

Why play the beautiful game, detractors asked, amid such horrible noise?

But with the backing of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who argued against efforts "to Europeanize an African World Cup," the vuvuzela will be at full song for Friday's 2010 World Cup opener between South Africa and Mexico, as if to declare that there's not only one way to celebrate soccer, just as there's not only one way to play it.

It will be a grand moment for South Africa, the first African nation to host the world's biggest sporting event. With the honor comes the opportunity to showcase South Africa's natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and emerging democracy before an international TV audience of 30 billion.

As host, South Africa has set a dazzling table, with 10 soccer venues in nine cities. The jewel among them is Soccer City, a 94,700-seat, earth-toned stadium designed to resemble the calabash, a traditional South African cooking pot.

It's not the only national symbol to figure prominently in the tournament.

Schoolchildren throughout the country are doing the Diski dance ("diski" means "football" in township slang), with steps based on soccer moves and performed to South African rhythms.

And no Bafana Bafana fan's World Cup outfit will be complete without a makarapa -- a modified miner's helmet that was initially created to protect the wearer's head from flying bottles but has since evolved into a wildly inventive headdress that proclaims love of the game and loyalty to team.

But no symbol will have quite the impact of the vuvuzela.

Says Jed Drake, executive producer of ESPN's comprehensive World Cup coverage: "It's going to be an interesting challenge to ensure that we never lose the ability to have our announcers heard clearly and distinctly."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company