The only story coming out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup that's dwarfed the soccer is the cacophony raised for, against, and by the vuvuzela. The long-necked, plastic horn tooted obsessively by South African soccer fans and other recent adopters emits a sound that has variously been compared to: a swarm of bees, stampeding elephants, and...flatulence. Yet a closer look at the history of competitive games reveals that pernicious noisemaking instruments have almost always played a singular, if mischievous role, in the sporting life at home and abroad.
First employed at North Korean baseball games, but making loud appearances at everything from the 2000 Republican National Convention to indoor volleyball competitions, these inflatable, plastic bats which fans bang together were outlawed at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, much to the consternation of this reporter.
Long a staple at ice hockey games, but thanks to the Jackass crew, the scourge of golfers everywhere.
What is the sound of one hand clapping? Clackers! Plastic versions of the toy were once handed out to an audience goad the Chicago Bulls into losing. Glass versions had a tendency to shatter and blind people.
Clamorous, unmistakable, and painfully loud at close proximity, the cowbell's signature sound nearly rivals the vuvuzela as a point of contention among sports audiences. Mississippi State fans are among its strongest proponents, continuing to smuggle bells into games even after they were partially outlawed.
"We Are the Champions"—immortalized in the "D2: The Mighty Ducks" closing credits sequence—is a classic; less noble versions include, "A rope! A tree! Let's hang the referee!" and the knee-jerk, "Hey! You suck!" English soccer fans in particular are renowned for their viscous, cutting chants.
And sometimes, the noise is the sport.