Saturday, June 19, 2010
Viva the Vuvuzela
FIFA President Sepp Blatter does not get much right. His 12 year reign as President could be described as a merry-go-round of incompetence: massive financial mismanagement, repeated allegations of corruption, including a highly amusing cash-for-votes scam before the last FIFA election, even gender bias (he once said people would only start watching women’s football if the girls wore tighter shorts and low cut shirts). But this World Cup Blatter has got one thing 100% correct: the vuvuzela, a somewhat disagreeable, atonal South African trumpet, should not be banned.
In asserting the right of South Africans to blow whichever trumpet they please, Blatter is standing up for the independent cultures that football creates all over the world. In an age where Western European football leagues groom so many players that Brazil plays with the efficiency of Germany, it is the varied vibrancy of national supporters that give the World Cup much of its flavour. Blatter is right to take on the collective might of European and North American media, who are so perturbed by the unending vuvuzela drone that the instrument became the hottest topic of the first week of football.
The vuvuzela is not a South African instrument. It originates in Mexico, from where it travelled to Brazil and much of South America. Indeed, every country that has a football tradition has a unique way of watching the game. But many of the appeals for banning the instrument are misty-eyed evocations that privilege and misrepresent European football culture. Yes, the terraces of many European stadiums are filled with passionate singing and witty banter during matches. But those same stadiums also spawn the worst kind of parochial anger, racial intolerance and outright violence in football. Even in the sanitised, TV-friendly Premier League, homophobic, anti-Semitic and other racial abuse is rife. During a Euro 2008 qualification match, neo-Nazi Croatian fans, in a patently pre-planned move, gathered to form a huge human swastika. Right wing gangs, the Ultras, control the stadiums of Italy, and once tossed a flaming scooter onto a pitch. There are worse things than some partisan noise.
South Africa’s troubled racial divisions are hardly a thing of the past. The overwhelming majority of white people live in gated communities and “safe” neighbourhoods in the big cities. Most of the money has stayed in the hands of the Apartheid-era rich, and it is very rare, even today, to see young black and white South Africans socialising in the same places. There are still “white” and “black” nightclubs in every city in the country.
Every commentator who has criticised the instrument must acknowledge that 25 years ago blacks in South Africa did not have the freedom to make the racket they pleased. The vuvuzela is a conch of freedom, and because no European today should be allowed to tell black South Africans what to do, it will be heard.