1. With every team at the World Cup finals now having played their first match, one thing – or sound – has been ubiquitous throughout the tournament thus far: the buzzing drone of the vuvuzela. As of the beginning of this week, the BBC alone has received 545 complaints about the sound of the horns during matches.
News coverage of the topic has tended to canvass opinion almost exclusively from English supporters, and most of the complaints centre around the sound being ‘annoying’, focusing on how it drowns out the ‘away’ sounds of chants and brass bands. While English angst at this is understandable, it is nonetheless unfair and perhaps even hypocritical: surely to South African fans, repeated bars of ‘The Great Escape’ could be just as much an irritant?
This World Cup has been touted as a homecoming to the place where humanity was born, an opportunity to showcase not only South Africa but the whole of the African continent, to a world that often only sees its dark, poverty-stricken, war-ridden underbelly. The success of the opening game of the tournament was testimony to this great objective, but since then, the desire to put Africa and African culture at centre-stage has become selective. When individuals complain about the vuvuzelas, it is ostensibly because it is ‘ruining’ the spectacle of the World Cup; but the real problem seems to be the extent to which the horns create a different spectacle, one that they personally can’t relate to. The naysayers want an African World Cup that is not so … African. Like the design of the magnificent Soccer City Stadium, the vuvuzela is steeped in South African tradition. Its inclusion in the spectacle is to be welcomed, surely, as something that makes the 2010 World Cup distinctive, a noise which unambiguously shouts “this is South Africa, and we are growing in confidence, we are hosting the World Cup!”
My suggestion that British fans want an African World Cup that references their own limited exposure to the culture brings to mind a previous post on this blog entitled ‘A Trans-Atlantic Non-Sequitir’. I think what people expected on the stands was “a little djembe here, a little soukous rhythm there,” but basically the same sort of atmosphere that we have seen at the many World Cups preceding this one. The fact that some people don’t recognise or enjoy the sound of the vuvuzela is unfortunate, but it is no reason to suggest banning the instruments from the stands or editing them out of audio coverage. As long as the fans continue to bring them to the match, they should be welcomed. The World Cup should be a topographical event, and it would be a disappointment if the fans in South Africa felt they couldn’t play their vuvuzelas at games because it wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Love or hate the sound and the atmosphere it generates, their sheer volume at the tournament is testimony to the sense of community that it is hoped this World Cup will exhibit and promote.
by David Jackson
2. I wrote on this site a while back about the inexhaustible potential for compelling narrative with which sport provides us. The key factor in this, I intimated, is sport’s unpredictability – its let’s-create-this-situation-and-just-see-what-happens value. At the risk of simplifying a complex topic, I maintain that this is precisely what makes sport a great and vital part of our society. But it’s also what makes it one of the most frustrating constructs that we willingly welcome into our lives. As nobody needs reminding, South Africa lost their second World Cup group game last night to Uruguay, going down by a dispiriting three goals to nil. The host nation has never been eliminated from a World Cup before the knockout stage but it looks like this year might buck the trend. The gnawing question is – what now for the narrative of this tournament?
This tournament is remarkable because it is the first African World Cup – the narrative had therefore been pencilled in as one where the ‘Rainbow Nation’ lead their continent onto the world stage, and change the map world football for ever. Bafana Bafana, in every place but the pitch, have adequately represented this thrilling novelty, bringing artefacts long associated with African club football – see David’s article above – to a global audience. In the absence of any really good football, at least until fairly recently (I write this while watching Argentina’s thrilling performance against South Korea), it has been the vuvuzelas, the songs, and the exuberant fans of Bafana Bafana that have helped sustained neutral interest.
But now it looks like the songs will be silenced, the vuvuzelas will be turned down a notch, and the fans will disappear all to quickly. This sudden, imminent loss of a pre-tournament narrative thread is more deflating than any dark narrative shift a novel could take. The result is a feeling akin not wholly unlike grief. I desperately want to know that this tournament will produce a story that doesn’t consist entirely of repetition, disappointment and missed opportunities for renewal. Maybe I can take heart from last year’s Venice Biennale – not an altogether different prospect from the World Cup – which managed perfectly well at being interesting after curator Daniel Birnbaum chose to dismantle the Italian Pavilion, buoyed greatly by its internationalist ethos: maybe the concept, raised in the tournament’s opening ceremony, of humankind in all its variety returning to its ancestral home will become more important than the idea of the cradle of humanity reaching out to the wider world. There again, the atmosphere of the Venice Biennale is not dependent on positive outcomes for a partisan national crowd. So will Bafana Bafana get behind any African nation that makes progress in the tournament? (Pan-Africanism has its inconsistencies but it’s convincing in arenas like this.) Will England suddenly rise to the occasion and cause this nation, at least, to forget about this being an African tournament? Or – more likely – will something wild and totally unforeseen happen? It’s times like these when following sport becomes a totally debilitating experience. I can only wait, hope, and pray (in the most secular possible way) that South Africa’s likely exit doesn’t suck the life and drain the form from this carnival.
by Luke Healey