At the 2010 World Cup Games in South Africa, it was vuvuzelas — long, yellow plastic horns that sounded like geese honking through megaphones. They filled stadiums with a menacing buzz which disrupted broadcasts, interfered with on-field communications and likely caused permanent hearing damage to many. The instrument and all its irritating glory became a symbol of the 2010 games. This year, it almost happened all over again.
It seems FIFA saw obnoxious novelty instruments as a success of the 2010 games. Last year, Brazil commissioned the creation of an entirely new instrument by Oscar-nominated Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown specifically for the World Cup. It's a variation on an African caxixi, a popular piece of Brazilian percussion called the caxirola. It's made of plastic instead of woven reeds, and has a concave bottom so two can be clapped together. When played en masse, they sound like a horde of amateur fencers sword-fighting with rainsticks, or as Brown described it, "like a beautiful breeze, not like a snake."
But if you've watched a broadcast this World Cup, you'll notice you haven't seen or heard the instrument. That's because global audiences combined with soccer passion can turn dangerous in the least-expected ways. Through a strange turn of events, the caxirola — the pride of the games — has received the worst sentence that can befall a small plastic instrument. It's been banned by the government.
In the beginning, it was a FIFA darling — they even included it on a list of 10 must-have items for the well-equipped fan, each shaker going for about $14. During a press conference, Brazil's president offered sweeping praise for the instrument, describing it rather confusingly as "an object capable of doing two things: combining images with sounds and tak[ing] us to goals." Brown even went to the Wall Street Journal to perform a less-than-gripping rendition of Brazil's national anthem:
But the widespread adoration of the instrument lasted only a few short months. The caxirola's fall from grace came almost immediately after the Brazilian government gave it to fans for free at an April 2013 match between Brazilian clubs Bahia and Vitoria. For a blissful period, gameplay was punctuated by the sound of light rain. But then one of the refs made a bad call. Angry fans quickly realized that their caxirolas were shaped like hand grenades and began lobbing them onto the field. Officials suspended play until all the instruments were cleaned up and thrown out.
As a result, the instruments were banned at last year's Confederations Cup, an event that serves as a prelude to the World Cup. Then they were banned from all 12 World Cup stadiums in an official announcement from the Brazilian government. Officials feared that if thrown from high up in the stands, they might seriously injure players, refs or property during a game, not to mention attendees.
Caxirola sales have not slowed, but the ban has been complete. The story of the caxirola is emblematic of the mismanagement and turmoil surrounding Brazil's World Cup preparations. Both the Cup and the instrument entered the world stage on a surge of national pride that slowly deteriorated into frustration over government mismanagement. Brown made a similar comparison defending the caxirola against a wave of bad press: "We're blaming the instrument, when we have today the kind of violence that was created by lack of social structure, violence created by desire, violence created by need."
He has a point — basically, it's "this is why we can't have nice things."