Vuvuzelas remain topic of debate at World Cup

Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa -- South Africa isn’t the only place where the vuvuzelas are creating a buzz. TV viewers around the world are complaining about the noisy plastic horns, with some viewers going so far as to watch the World Cup with the sound turned off.

ESPN, Al-Jazeera, South Korean broadcaster SBS, TF1 in France and Brazil’s BandSports have all received complaints about the racket, which sounds like a swarm of angry bees.

But FIFA President Sepp Blatter isn’t impressed. Asked repeatedly to ban the horns from World Cup venues, Blatter refused once again Monday.

“I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound,” Blatter said in a Twitter post. “I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country.”

The vuvuzela has played a big role in the soccer culture in South Africa for more than a decade, with locals comparing it to the chanting, singing — even the Wave — done in other countries. So while it may make the broadcast difficult to listen to, Jed Drake, executive producer of ESPN’s World Cup coverage, said capturing the sound is part of capturing the game.

“They are part of the South Africa culture. And you do hear different opinions on them,” he said. “But we will be televising all these events regardless of whether there are vuvuzelas are not.

“Our host country is South Africa, and so it is what it is.”

Empty seats, anyone?

The World Cup stadiums are not exactly empty, but there are worrying signs that FIFA and local organizers have made a mess of the ticket sales and distribution system.

Officials announced attendance at Friday’s opening game in Johannesburg between South Africa and Mexico at 84,490, exactly the figure listed as the stadium’s capacity on FIFA’s website. Yet soccer’s international governing body was investigating why there was an empty block of seats at the match.

On Saturday, only 31,513 fans watched South Korea’s victory over Greece in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, which holds 42,486. A FIFA spokesman said the organization was trying to see whether transport or ticket distribution problems were to blame.

The same thing occurred Sunday in Polokwane, where only 30,235 fans turned up to see Slovenia defeat Algeria in the 41,733-seat Peter Mokaba Stadium.

Crowds were better Monday, but there were still several thousand empty seats at the Denmark-Netherlands match in Soccer City where dozens of luxury boxes were not opened.

Workers strike in three cities

Labor unrest plagued World Cup venues in three cities Monday, with the manager of a rapid-bus service in Johannesburg saying a driver’s strike affected hundreds of fans attending the Netherlands-Denmark game.

Approximately 1,000 fans should have taken buses home after the game, but when drivers walked off the job claiming their shifts were changed without proper notice, the spectators were put on trains instead.

Meanwhile in Cape Town and Durban, police were called in to replace stadium security workers who left in a wage dispute.

A day earlier two people were injured when police in Durban used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a protest by 400 stadium workers.

Popular viewing

Whether you watched the U.S.-England World Cup soccer match in English on ESPN or in Spanish on Univision, a whole lot of you were watching.

ABC had 12.95 million viewers for Saturday’s match, while Univision had 3.8 million viewers. The ESPN ratings made the match the fifth-most-watched soccer game in the U.S., and they were higher than the average number of viewers for the NHL’s Stanley Cup finals.

Univision actually beat ESPN in viewership for last Friday’s opening game between Mexico and host South Africa.

ESPN had 2.6 million tuned in; Univision had 5.4 million.

Short kicks

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, who sustained bruised ribs in a cleats-first collision with England striker Emile Heskey, is progressing in his recovery and could play in Friday’s match against Algeria.

Times staff writer Diane Pucin and Times wire services contributed to this report.