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Time to stop tobacco companies from ‘parasiting’ sporting events

The New Straits Times, May 26, 2002
By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
THE Thomas Cup excitement is over. The Malaysian team gallantly fought its way through to the final. Though we went down to Indonesia, we did so with tremendous amount of pride.

In less than a week, another sporting event begins — the 2002 World Cup. While Malaysia is still far away from making the league, our pride as a nation is no less at stake, perhaps in a different way. The World Cup is a multimillion dollar business and everyone wants a piece of the action. Some, according to Fifa, do it illegally, "parasiting" on the event without contributing to it A classical example is when earlier last month, the South Korean football governing body accused the country's state-run tobacco monopoly, Korea Tobacco & Ginseng Corp, of using the World Cup to promote cigarette sales.

The company reportedly began selling its brand of "Time 2002" cigarettes. The packs had images of football players in action. The design, allegedly, is "to promote a festive mood for the May 31-June 30 tournament." However, Fifa wanted no part of this nonsense. Indeed, Fifa spokes-person was quoted as saying: "Tobacco has no place in football nor in any other sport, and any involve-ment of any tobacco company is entirely unwanted and actively rejected." Fifa's position is clear and succinct. Many football clubs associated with Fifa do not have anything to do with tobacco, be it directly or indirectly. This can be confirmed by going through the websites of Fifa and its affiliates, except the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

Not only is FAM's website starkly littered with tobacco brand names, logos and sponsorship, so too are many of its leagues.

Unlike the South Korean counterpart that blew the whistle and protested, the FAM is exceedingly quiet about the matter. The football matches played in this country are willingly "soiled" with tobacco-related sponsorship, against the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Fifa (Poison Control, May 5).

The question remains how can the local authorities be so callous about this. Why does FAM "conspire" in the violation of the Fifa stance to which it is affiliated? Why has FAM not given due respect to the initiatives taken by UN delegates from over 19 countries to cut smoking through sports as spelt out in an international anti-tobacco treaty.

There is no other better time to do this. After all, the country seems to be going through a kind of a sport-cleansing programme of late. In scrutinising the management of the various sports organisations, perhaps it is time to ensure their "cleanliness" in involvement with "tobacco money". It is ridiculous that a tobacco company is now sponsoring awards for the best in sports without so much as being bothered about the contradictory message that emanates from it.

Indeed reliance on tobacco company for such a worthy cause is deplorable, to say the least. The fact that organisations such as Fifa has had no tobacco sponsors for more than 15 years, and in addition signed agreement of co-operation with the WHO for a tobaccofree World Cup, speaks volumes of how ignorant our sports promoters, including the Health Ministry, have been.

Ironically the World Cup is the platform for tobacco companies here to make their presence felt throughout the country.

We have to rethink the present strategy of working hand in glove with tobacco industry to promote sports, notably football. We need to accord more recognition to health of our youth at least. After all sports is just not about winning and participating, but more importantly, it is a whole process of education in social behaviour. It is about good health and attitude, and most important of all, good etiquette.

We must not allow our sporting events at all levels be parasited by tobacco companies ever willing to "cash in" at our expense. The FAM should benchmark not only the standard of professionalism as demanded by Fifa but also the standards of ethics that Fifa advocates. In failing to do this, not only the standard of our games suffers, so too the pride of our country, especially in the sports arena.

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