Muffling the vuvuzela

Fifa president Sepp Blatter may have refused to entertain any talk of banning the vuvuzela from the Soccer World Cup but a reprieve for disgruntled football fans has emerged. Two Cape Town-based entrepreneurs have designed what they have aptly named the vuvu earplug, which is a vuvuzela noise-proof product.

Andrew Chin and Craig Doonan, two friends who graduated from Rhodes University in 1990, decided to explore ways of reducing the deafening vuvuzela sound after the Confederations Cup.

“We are basically entrepreneurs who are always on the lookout for business opportunities. We noticed the need for this earplug after several visitors complained about the noise from the vuvuzela.

“As South Africans, we believe that it is part of our football culture and do not want to see the vuvuzela excluded from the World Cup. But we also feel that consideration should be given to those who are uncomfortable with it being indiscriminately blown at football matches. We are basically offering football lovers a choice,” Chin told the Mail & Guardian this week.

The vuvu earplug, said Chin is made from memory foam. It resembles a miniature vuvuzela with a tiny football blocking the noisy end. It is this ball that acts as an ear cap and reduces the noise level. “You roll the ball tight and insert into the ear. It then expands to fit the ear and thus reduces noise by about 80 decibels. Memory foam has a high viscosity and density, which allows it to react to body heat faster and expand while in the ear,” Chin explained to Grahamstown’s Grocott’s Mail recently.

A vuvuzela produces about 200 decibels and the vuvu earplug will reduce its noise by close to half.

The earplugs will retail for R20 and are expected to go on sale in May, a month before the World Cup kicks off on June 11.

“We have gone into partnership with a company called Skeg, which will be responsible for coordinating the mass production of our design,” said Chin.

Response from the market to the invention, which is being produced locally, has also been encouraging. The Netherlands and Belgium lead the European contingent of countries that have shown a big interest in it. The only commercial snag affecting the earplugs is that the venture is still struggling to get local corporate support. “Although the public response has been phenomenal, unfortunately most companies we hoped would run with us have said they have used up their World Cup budgets,” Chin said.

Critics of the vuvuzela argue that it has the potential to impair hearing. It is an assertion that some experts also allude to. Grocott’s Mail further reports that a letter in the February 2010 edition of Scientific Letters, shown on the company’s website, said preventive measures such as hearing protection and raising public awareness are important.

The letter reads: “The vuvuzela has reached iconic status and should be kept as part of the South African soccer culture, but measures to protect spectators’ hearing must be considered of paramount importance.

“According to the South African National Standard regulating occupational noise exposure in South Africa, no one within a two-metre radius of a vuvuzela, including the person blowing it, should be exposed to it continually for more than a minute”. The letter states this places anyone within a two-metre radius in severe risk of losing their hearing.

Chin believes the Confederations Cup demonstrated that there is a big constituency of football fans and visitors who do not like the vuvuzela. “We are not anti-vuvuzela but rather want this invention to ensure that everyone enjoys the World Cup. Our efforts are to supplement the South African football culture which favours the vuvuzela and we want to see the earplugs sold with the vuvuzela,” said Chin.

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