Monday, June 21, 2010

World cup and Vuvuzela debate : a chain of music, soccer, society, culture, happiness and identity

The soccer fever of World Cup has spread all across the world. I could feel it in the charming faces and jovial interactions with my African friends and colleagues here in Addis Ababa. At this backdrop, after coming from the UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) office at the end of the day, thought to write this blog piece. A random google click on World Cup is displaying lot of news items on the vuvuzela debate these days. This traditional instrument that Africans play during football match can create a buzzing sound of bee if not played properly. Complaints are coming that such a sound can be disturbing for footballers and other spectators who are not from Africa and not used to the sound of this instrument. A telegraph news item also states that somebody has discovered a solution to tackle the disturbance created by the sound pattern of Vuvuzela. I came to know about the news item from the facebook through my friends – Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi and Amitabha Nandi.

Having read the news item, and series of articles through googling, stream of thoughts started ushering on the mind where I was tying strings of music, soccer, society, culture, happiness and identity. The first linking question that I asked to myself was why do people play vuvuzela on the football ground. The answer I got was this is a cultural tradition of the African nations and this makes them happy. Music, rhythm, sound pattern and festive atmosphere of a football ground can make human beings happy. As human beings they have the right to be happy by getting engaged in this sound generation activity even if it is clashing with the happiness demands of other spectators, footballers for whom the same sound is not generating happiness by creating disturbance in their mind.
Some paper digging work that I did further on this question, gave me some direction on the behavioural pattern of World Cup spectators and fans during earlier world cup 2006 that was held in Germany. A paper by Roy Hay (Sports and Editorial Services Australia), Tony Joel (Deakin University) titled “Football's World Cup and its Fans - Reflections on National Styles: A Photo Essay on Germany 2006” published in Soccer and Society (Volume 8, Issue 1, January 2007,pgs 1- 32) researched on how football fans participate in and get involved in introspective (with self awareness) strategies to achieve the best beneficial outcomes for themselves from watching football matches during World Cup. The paper looks onto various experiences, behavioural pattern of football fans of countries viz. Scotland, Germany, Australia during World Cup 2006. It does this to understand the dynamics of relationship between - the fans who are interested in soccer and have come to see World Cup with the - fans who are attracted to soccer temporarily because of a short term interest in the World Cup event (in colloquial Bengali who could be called the Hujuge guys). It also analyses the relationship between these set of football fans and promoters of the major event World Cup.
This paper concludes that the fans of World Cup 2006 for the countries (which were analysed) came to World Cup with a large band of wishlists, expectations to World Cup 2006 and their behavior were directed in a way to maximize benefit for making them happy through individual and collective form of match watching experience. I guess, the same kind of explanation can also be applied in studying the rift between different fan followings (from various parts of the world) and African soccer fans with respect to playing of Vuvuzela during the World Cup matches. Playing Vuvuzela can give a collective, individual happiness to the soccer fans and can help in matching their expectations from this World Cup. Whereas the same activity of playing Vuvuzela might not be matching the expectation of another fan (say from another country in Europe or Asia or Latin America) who has also travelled and come to see World Cup with lot of expectations of getting individual, collective happiness from the event. So a difference of opinion, views is coming in between the two. Promoters, organisers of the event can continue to support Vuvuzela playing if it matches their expectation, benefit and happiness that they get by organizing this World Cup. This could be one of the explanatory dimensions of the difference in view points that is happening regarding difference of opinion arising with respect to playing Vuvuzela during the soccer matches.
While analyzing the opinions through behavioural lense, one also must not forget that soccer as a sport is also an expression medium of cultural and national identities. Vuvuzela is an example of that. It is closely networked with cultural identity of an African soccer fan. So playing Vuvuzela during soccer matches is a kind of creation of a specific cultural space of soccer in the world of various cultural identities. This reminds me of a paper titled – “Sport Space and National Identity: Soccer and Skiing as Formative Forces: On the Austrian Example”, by Roman Horak and Georg Spitaler American Behavioral Scientist.2003; 46: 1506-1518”.
The authors in this paper argue that the development and growth of an Austrian Identity is very much being helped by two sports – viz. Urban Soccer (that developed mostly around Vienna) and Alpine SKIING (that developed and got linked with rural alpine Austria). So sports viz. soccer is a great subject of research in terms of its contribution to cultural space and various identities (could be national, local etc). Events like World Cup 2010 would therefore can be remembered as another instance of sports bringing to forefront the point of overlapping areas of sports and cultural, national identities of today’s world.