Turn down the volume, shove in the earplugs, for a raucous horn is threatening viewers' sanity. The 2010 WC might possibly be the first that most armchair fans prefer to watch with the volume turned down.
For years the metre-long vuvuzela has been blown by South African supporters with as much gusto as Louis Armstrong — but rather less melody. The collective sound has been compared to a herd of blaring elephants or hive of angry bees. Initially many will find this a charming local custom but once the novelty wears off there may be more than a few complaints of earache both inside stadiums and from TV audiences.
There was a taste of things to come at last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa. Some players grumbled they could not hear each other or the referee. “I find these vuvuzelas annoying,” moaned Xabi Alonso, the Spain midfielder. “They don't contribute to the atmosphere in the stadium. They should put a ban on them.”
Researchers claim to have found evidence that vuvuzelas can lead to permanent hearing damage. A study from Pretoria and Florida universities tested the hearing of 11 spectators before and after they attended a South African Premier League match. Researchers said the average sound exposure during the near two hours was 100.5 decibels and peaked at 144.2 decibels. National standards for occupational noise require hearing protection for workers exposed to 85 decibels and above.
A ban is also unlikely because manufacturers and retailers are hoping to cash in from vuvuzela sales to thousands of visiting supporters. So one South African company is already marketing foam earplugs specially designed for the World Cup.
TV crews seeking “local colour” are likely to settle on fans not only blowing vuvuzelas, and TV audiences can turn on the mute button.