The first round of controversy concerning the use of the vuvuzela in sports stadiums arose during the course of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. The worries regarding the instrument’s ability to generate noise and the consequent effects on players’ abilities to communicate on the pitch (as well as health concerns) were not severe enough for FIFA to ban the noise maker from the 2010 event. Was this the correct decision?

The sound level produced by the vuvuzela, considering its size, is enormously surprising: at 1 metre away from the device’s opening, the sound level measures 120dB. This sound is the threshold of pain, and exposure for extended periods of time can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. In light of this, clinically speaking, it would be in the crowd’s best interest to have the vuvuzela either banned from stadiums, or at least muffled in some significant way (that is, to lower is sound level).

For fans, however, the dangers seem well worth the fun caused by the positive effect that the vuvuzela has on spectator spirit. The negative effect of the noise cannot, however, be diminished: this is proven by the fact that during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the demand for ear plugs eventually outstripped their (plentiful) supply.

Another concern for health care professionals was the potential the vuvuzela has for spreading disease. A study completed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine established that vuvuzelas can aid in the spreading of illness as the instrument could be seen as a highly effective conduit for flu and cold germs. This is to say that the vuvuzela is much more effective than mere shouting and singing in suspending germs (that can remain air-borne for several hours) in the air in the stadium. The obvious implication for this was that, considering the cup was held during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months, the vuvuzela was directly responsible for a higher incidence of illness than otherwise would have been experienced.

In another clinical study, this time done locally by the University of Pretoria, found that noise levels produced by the device exceed the maximum recommended daily noise exposure: that is, the instrument produced a decibel level of 113dB at a distance of 2m from its opening. The daily recommended allowance for noise levels is 100dB for no more than a total of 45 seconds. Attending a match and standing close to a person blowing on a vuvuzela can therefore be very detrimental to one’s hearing. Not only is temporary hearing loss a high probability, but permanent damage can be done too. Newer models of the product include a noise reduction mouth piece which is said to reduce the volume of the vuvuzela by up to 20dB.

Owing to the media attention garnered by the device during the 2010 FIFA World Cup numerous sporting grounds and sporting organisations have banned the vuvuzela from their respective events. Notably, UEFA has decided not to allow the noise maker into matches organised by the association, and the 2012 Olympic organising committee has similarly decided not allow the vuvuzela into Olympic events. Owing to this fact, I would definitely buy an iPhone if Apple were to release an app that mimics the sound of the vuvuzela, if at a reduced volume!

Despite the negative publicity, however, certain players and football personalities came out in defence of the instrument, arguing that it was part of South African culture, and that just because it didn’t conform to European norms shouldn’t automatically qualify the proposal that FIFA ban the device from stadiums during the world cup.

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