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South Africans Enjoy Tooting Their Own Horn

CAPE TOWN - The Swiss ring cowbells, and the Brazilians pound samba drums. In South Africa, the blast of the vuvuzela is the sound of soccer.

Just one of the plastic horns belches a deafening blast. The raucous noise inside a stadium full of them is enough to drown out the roars of the crowd.

The sound will be pervasive during the month-long World Cup on the streets, inside stadiums and in public viewing areas for fans without tickets.

While the trumpeting is known to stir up team spirit and patriotism in South African soccer fans, it will not be music to everyone's ears.

During the 2009 Confederations Cup, a dry run for the World Cup, some players and coaches complained that the tuneless din was distracting and made communication impossible.

Journalists grumbled that the noise - which some likened to the sound of a swarm of angry bees - caused broadcasting difficulties.

FIFA ultimately rejected calls to ban the noisemaker from the World Cup, saying the horns would bring local flavor and an "African sound" to the tournament.

"Vuvuzelas, drums and singing are part of African football culture." FIFA President Sepp Blatter said at the time. "It is part of their celebration, it is part of their culture and let them blow it."

While the exact origins of the vuvuzela are unclear, it is likely a descendent of the kudu horn once used by Zulu leaders to summon villagers.

It wasn't until the late 1990s that a tin version of today's plastic vuvuzela horn began to make regular appearances at South African soccer matches.

Despite and perhaps even in response to the criticism of the horn by some in the international soccer community, the vuvuzela has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years.

"The best thing that could have happened to the vuvuzela was for the Europeans to throw a fit about it," said U.S. sports historian Chuck Korr, author of More Than Just a Game.

Attempts to rid soccer stadiums of the sound have elevated what was once a soccer accessory to a defiant symbol of South African pride. "We can blow the vuvuzela when we want," Cape Town resident Thabo Madikane said. "When people hear the vuvuzela, they will think about South Africa."

Peter Alegi, a scholar from Michigan State and author of African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World's Game, said some locals use the vuvuzela as a claim of ownership on the games.

Distracting or inspiring, the vuvuzela's blare will be a noise athletes and spectators must endure during the tournament. U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley is among the players who say the vuvuzelas will not affect their game.

"My view is if the South African people think the vuvuzela is something they can bring to the World Cup and bring their own passion and culture to the game, then great," he said.

However, the right to blow vuvuzelas is not absolute. Danny Jordaan, head of the tournament's local organizing committee, told the Pretoria News last month that the horns would be summarily banned from games if any landed on the field or if they led to violence.

"(Fans) have to show discipline, like not blowing them during the national anthems or showing disrespect when officials, presidents or kings are introduced," Jordaan said.

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