Tobacco sponsorship of sports could doom Japan’s Olympic bid

Japan risks losing its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games because of growing local and international opposition to the national tobacco corporation’s sponsorship of World Cup volleyball, which attracts millions of women and schoolgirls.

A United Nations agency, an international group of nongovernmental organizations and hundreds of antismoking activists and doctors in Japan are calling on Japan Tobacco, the world’s third-largest cigarette maker, to halt its sponsorship of World Cup matches, which includes players from the United States and other nations that forbid tobacco advertising at sporting events.

FIVB Volleyball Women's World Cup 2011

Lindsey Berg (4) and Foluke Akinradewo (16) go for a block attempt versus Japan

A group of 2,500 doctors here also says tobacco sponsorship could hurt Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

Japan Tobacco insists it is doing nothing wrong under Japanese law and points out that it is promoting the corporation’s beverage division, not its cigarette products, at the monthlong volleyball tournament, which ends Sunday.

WHO says that Japan is obliged to comply with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty it adopted in 2004 along with 173 other nations. The treaty bans all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship everywhere, including at sporting events, WHO press officer Timothy O’Leary said.

“Nowhere in our corporate sponsorship of volleyball games do we advertise our cigarette brands or products,” the company said in an email.

“It doesn’t matter if Japan Tobacco is doing various works. Everybody knows that Japan Tobacco’s main business is tobacco. More than 90 percent of their income is from cigarettes. You can’t make excuses,” Dr. Manabu Sakuta, chairman of the board of directors of the Japan Society for Tobacco Control.

Dr. Sakuta said his group, which includes 2,500 doctors, will petition the president of Japan Tobacco and Japan’s Ministry of Finance, which owns 51 percent of shares in Japan Tobacco, to immediately halt what he called “illegal” tobacco advertising at the volleyball World Cup.

He said that Japan’s current actions could harm its bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

“It is going to be a problem for Japan. Smoking is not allowed near the Olympic stadiums. What they are doing at the World Cup volleyball, putting JT mark on the shoulder of players or around the floor, is absolutely forbidden in the Olympics. This is not good for Japan’s hope to host the Olympics,” he said.

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