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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Love those long plastic trumpets or loathe them, vuvuzelas have become the symbol of South Africa’s World Cup.

To some, their unmistakable drone is the world’s most irritating sound, a headache-inducing menace that is ruining the 2010 soccer championships and deserving of a swift and strictly enforced ban.

Others hear it as joyful self-expression, a South African tradition that has made this World Cup unique, the ultimate souvenir for overseas fans — and fun to blow.

Vuvuzelas have been a polarizing and controversial issue in the opening round of the World Cup, and are dogged by rumors that FIFA will ban them from stadiums due to noise levels that can damage hearing and cause havoc for broadcasters. Another common gripe is that vuvuzelas have changed the atmosphere at matches by overtaking the traditional songs usually heard sung by fans.

A French cable channel began offering a vuvuzela-free broadcast of all matches, using frequency-blocking technology to eliminate the buzz of the trumpets. Meanwhile, several audio software vendors have started selling downloadable “vuvuzela filters” that they claim will block the noise.

Even a giant 120-foot long vuvuzela atop an unfinished flyover in Cape Town has been silenced — city officials feared that its booming noise could cause traffic chaos below.

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Television viewers of the World Cup seem to be the most rabidly anti-vuvuzela. More than 300,000 people have joined a Facebook petition asking for FIFA to ban the “annoying vuvuzela,” many of them posting furious attacks on the horn and the people who blow them.

“If I wanted to stick my head inside a beehive, I would do so. Stop the noise and let the players play!” wrote Kevin McVan, in one of the few profanity-free comments. “[South Africans] just don’t seem to care that the rest of the world is getting fed up and having their World Cup enjoyment affected!” wrote Nicola Warner.

Local World Cup organizing chief Danny Jordaan — who has said he would personally prefer to hear singing to vuvuzelas — said that FIFA might consider a ban of the trumpets “if there are grounds to do so,” specifically, “if any land on the pitch in anger.” This remark has sparked calls on the Facebook petition for spectators to throw vuvuzelas onto the field, in an attempt to get them banned.

But FIFA President Sepp Blatter, long a vuvuzela supporter, has stood fast behind the trumpets.

“I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound,” he posted on Twitter. “I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?”

Players have been divided on the issue. France captain Patrice Evra blamed the vuvuzelas for his team’s poor performance after its first match. Argentina’s Lionel Messi complained that “it is impossible to communicate … It is like being deaf.”

But England defender Jamie Carragher said that the buzzing sound is most noticeable when watching games on TV, and he doesn’t think it is a problem on the pitch, joking that he is louder than the vuvuzelas. Carragher has said he will be bringing a few of the horns back to his children in England.