What the Vuvuzela is up with the Jabulani?

June 16, 2010

Now that we have all had an opportunity to savor the celebratory mood that beckons in our planet's biggest party, it's time to whine about what's wrong with this World Cup. Hey, someone has to do it. Let's start with the Vuvuzela. I love saying Vuvuzela a lot more than I like hearing it. It's a pretty word but it makes one hell of an annoying constant bee-buzzing sound that seems to be the soundtrack of every World Cup match, and not just during goal celebrations but throughout the entire 90 minutes. It's monotonous, it drowns out the chants that some countries are famous for, it makes it difficult for players to hear the whistle or their team mates, and it makes it hard for audiences at home to hear the commentary on TV. The debate on the Vuvuzela began before the World Cup. FIFA's president Sepp Blatter managed to kill dissent early on, only for the controversy to resurface after Argentina's Lionel Messi, Robin Van Persie and other players complained in their opening games. FIFA again considered banning the trumpet-like instrument for a moment, then decided against it. Supporters of the Vuvuzela argue that it is a South African cultural trademark (a bit if a stretch considering it was only introduced in the 90's) and that banning it is intolerant and offensive. But there‚ is a compromise: why not permit Vuvuzelas for South Africa's games, but ban them from other games? Allow each country's fans to celebrate in their‚ own cultural trademark; some like to chant, sing, dance to samba beats or a mariachi, or just cheer the old fashioned ways with "ooh's" and "aah's." Instead of all that, we are stuck with a one-note zombie hum that saps the living daylights of the emotion of the World Cup. And then there's the‚ Jabulani. Players have complained that the new-technology ball, courtesy of Adidas, is not very accurate. This may or may not be an excuse for poor individual performance, but one thing is clear: very few free kicks have been on target, and more than one goalie has failed to handle easy balls. It does seem that the ball accelerates and bounces faster than normal. Here's a question: why meddle with ball technology in the first place? Did players complain that the run-of-the-mill Adidas ball was getting too boring? How come technologists don't meddle with the crossbar, or the pitch size, or the goal lines, or the net? This is about selling a new product, isn't it? Well, I am all for marketing campaigns, but could it not come at the expense of my World Cup viewing experience? In truth, the‚ Jabulani was introduced during the Confederations Cup last year, not the World Cup, but player feedback was not entirely positive then either. Of course, Adidas will be happy to argue that this tournament is simply tainted by poor goalies and overzealous free-kickers. They quickly point to US goalie's Tim Howard's stellar performance (I say they owe him a sponsorship). As for the free kicks, the word is still out; we will need Beckham - or Zidane or Mihajlovic or Roberto Carlos to come out of retirement - for a field test to settle this one. Then there's the empty seats. In‚ any World Cup,‚ any stadium that is‚ anything less than full to the brim is a bit sacrilegious to viewers like me who would give a pinkie to be there. Here's betting that if there were to be a Tuvalu vs. Djibouti match-up in Brazil 2014, you won't find an empty seat. I understand that South Africa is not as soccer-crazed as Brazil, and that its non-black population puts rugby and cricket ahead of soccer; but how about the South African organizers make up for that by offering free tickets to poor school children or any of the street fans whom I am sure would be more than willing to act as seat warmers. Then there's the disappointment of the big guns: Messi, Ronaldo, Drogba, Kaka, and Ribery. None of the hyped players - who are admittedly very talented - delivered on the hype in their much anticipated South Africa debut. In fact, Ronaldo's best moment in Portugal's opening match against the Ivory Coast came in a half-time commercial for Nike. Lastly, apart from Germany and arguably the Netherlands and Brazil, so far it seems that most of the matches have been low-scoring and low energy. Here's hoping that the competition picks up and the Vuvuzela tones down.