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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Xenophobic Attacks May Resurface if Vuvuzela is Banned

The 12th Man is a term synonymous with many soccer teams across the world, but no team assumes more comfort in it than Liverpool Football club. When Liverpool beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions league in a historic comeback from 3-0 down, the credits did not only go to captain fantastic, Steven Gerard, midfield amulets, Xabi Alonso and Dietmar Harmann, but to also to one man who never kicked the ball; the 12th Man.

This quite important man who never gets to kick a ball and can only handle it if a player hits a wayward shot happens to be the fans. And no matter how big a game of football is, whether it is the passion-driven Merseyside derby or the pride and bragging rights aligned El derbi espaƱol, without the 12th man, there’s likely to be some dull kickaround and lack of the kind of passion that makes married men weep.

It’s the 12th man who would go to the streets to protest against misadministration of a club, it’s the 12th man who would lose his/her voice in support of their team, it’s the 12th man who gets ridiculed by the opponent’s fans when they get whooped by a lower division team, and it’s the 12th man who travels distant miles to show solidarity and support for the team.

But unlike the Kops from Anfield who sang You Will Never Walk Alone song for more than two hours in the thrilling encounter, the 12th man is not entirely reliant on his/her voice only. The Dutch have their conspicuous, bright orange colours, the Nigerians have their regalia comprised of the iro (top) and buba (wrapper) topped off with a gele (headwrap), the Argentines unfurl banners from Boca Juniours and River Plate as they chant slogans, the Mexicans have the infamous Mexican wave, the Brazilians have the Samba dance, the Ghanaians have their drums and, well, the South Africans have the vuvuzela.

So vital is the 12th man, their songs, instruments and body movements that sometimes a team’s good performance, or lack of it, determines whether the team swims in ecstasy of victory or wallows under the agony of defeat. How many times have we heard the coaches and players urge their supporters to come out in large numbers and ‘cheer the team to victory’? While victory is not always surefire when the fans make loud cheers in support of their teams and equally loud jeers for the opponents, such support actually does affect the player’s psychology.

The home team is always said to be under pressure to not only win, but also impress, and the fans’ satisfaction is the yardstick used to measure these two items. South Africa, which is hosting and participating in this year’s World Cup, is no different.

The host nation is not only under pressure to perform at home, but also not to be the first host nation to fail going beyond the group stages in the football premier event. To achieve this, they would have to go through an open group A which features 1998 champions France, two-time winners Uruguay and 1970 hosts, Mexico. They would need the 12th man to be at the top of their voice. Or is it horn?

Which brings the question of the vuvuzela. Should it be banned? If yes, what will happen to attendance in the matches? If no, will the players continue kicking the ball around without ‘being able’ to communicate to each other or hear instructions from the bench? What is it in the first place? What does it mean? Is it a distraction to the world cup as some critics are claiming? Does it have anything to do with culture and fan tradition? Should such distractive traditions be excused into world cup?

Unfortunately, not many people have been eager to get the answers for these questions. I know I don’t have the best of answers. Nobody does.

But I say, the vuvuzela is simply South Africa’s twelfth-and-a-half man. To break that statement down, we have the 11 players on the field, the 12th man who is the fan, and the half a man which is the vuvuzela. Should it be banned? I say not really. The 12th man in South Africa and the half a man are one. Ban the vuvuzela and you drive the fans away from the pitch. Drive the fans away from the pitch and you have players who simply cannot perform. This results into dull matches, no advertising revenue, reduced media coverage, no celebration and at the end of it all, no memories of a World Cup in 2010.

What happens next is anti-vuvuzela proponents would simply descend into their lieu de rendezvous, raise a champagne and then tune into the TV reports in their countries reporting that the worst ever world cup event to grace the earth was hosted in Africa, which happens to be least developed and most corrupt country in the world, and where the words doom and gloom must have gotten their origin.

FIFA, dominated by egotistic men from the west would then put rules requiring that for any nation to host the World Cup, they must have had at least an annual GDP growth of $300,000 as of 2009, hence South Africa, the top African country with $287,219 will be locked out and so will other African countries. US, the European Union, most Asian and South American countries will be eligible. But no room for Africa.

Anything good happening in Africa is graced by music, song, dance and, of late, blaring vuvuzela for good measure. The 2010 FIFA World Cup is good, very good for the continent. Thus, there shouldn’t be any restrictions as to which extent we should celebrate this once in a lifetime event.

Banning the vuvuzela will be like making South Africa play in an empty stadium. This will inturn have many repercussions. First, FIFA will have to refund the South African and other pro-vuvuzela fans the amount they spent on match tickets, that is, if they boycott, official beer sponsor Budweiser, unable to make sales will also ask FIFA to refund the millions of dollars it gave out on beer marketing rights, so will other brands which have invested in the gala.

And who knows, xenophobic attacks may just resurface in the Rainbow nation and perhaps a Third World War may break out due to xenophobic-induced mass killings. I can’t seem to stop wondering how South African fans in the black dominated areas are feeling about this whole ban vuvuzela debate. Racial tensions may as well be developing as can be gathered around different social sites where groups like (Fifa- Ban The Annoying Vuvuzela (Horn) From The South Africa World Cup!) have been formed. Some of the posts in the 'walls' of such groups have been utterly racial and the black community have been called all kinds of names which I would rather censure on this article.

Just like the traveling England fans are imperative for the success of the men from the Queens land in the tournament, the blaring horn and their owners are vital for South Africa’s progress in the World Cup. If it performs the desired function of urging the Bafana Bafana on and putting off the opposing team, then South Africa may as well win this tournament, if not go far beyond expectations. But first, they have to ignore the anti-vuvuzela crusaders who wouldn’t just let the locals celebrate this spectacle in the way they know best.

England and Liverpool defensive linchpin Jamie Carragher was quoted saying he would be taking some of the plastic horn home with him. "My kids have been on the phone and they want two. I've got two in my bag already," he said.

Is it so hard to emulate him?

The 2010 World Cup must live in the memories of many. Shocks like star-studded Spain losing to Switzerland will come and go. Goalkeepers will complain of the Jabulani ball but it will still be used anyway. But from what I have gathered so far, one thing will stand out tall from the rest... taller than even if Ghana win the World Cup or Spain or England fail to go beyond the quarter finals.

The vuvuzela will make the 2010 World Cup indelible in the memories of many. And I haven’t heard any Italian complain about it. They simply know that if you go to Rome, you either let the Romans do their things, or do as the Romans do.

Is it so hard to live with that?

And that's Thesteifmastertake!!