World Health Organization scolds FIVB, JVA, Japan Tobacco over World Cup Volleyball sponsorship

UN, NGOs call on FIVB, JVA, Japan Tobacco to stop ads at volleyball World Cup in Japan


Doctors group says it could hurt Japan’s bid to host 2020 Olympics.


Tokyo–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 non-governmental organizations, and hundreds of anti-smoking 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 feature US athletes and players of other nations which forbid tobacco advertising at sporting events. 


A group of 2500 doctors in Japan also says it could hurt Japan’s bid, backed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, to host the 2020 Olympic Games.  


Japan Tobacco says it is doing nothing wrong under Japanese law, and says it is promoting drinks, not cigarettes. 


Dr. Armando Peruga, program manager of the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative, said the WHO “will shortly be in contact with the Federation International de Volleyball (volleyball’s governing body) to convey our disappointment at their actions and to remind them that in 2002 they publicly committed to have a tobacco free sport.”


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


Doctors in Japan say Japan Tobacco is “illegally” putting its logo on Japan national team uniforms, court-side digital billboards, TV ads, and “gift” packages handed out to schoolgirls, mothers and children entering Yoyogi National Stadium and arenas across Japan during the World Cup, which has run for a month, ending December 4. 


The 2004 treaty is “legally binding under international law for governments five years after they have ratified the treaty,” Dr. Peruga said in an email. “We hope that the Japan government will soon abide by its international commitments to avoid situations such as the one created by this volleyball tournament.”


He also said tobacco sponsorship is “ethically reprehensible because it pursues the promotion of a deadly drug that kills up to one half of its customers when used as manufacturers intend. Tobacco sponsorship further defines the irresponsibility of the sponsors, of those who take the money and those who make excuses under the illusion that a tobacco sponsor is a multi-product company.”


Hiroshi Takeuchi and Richard Baker, chief spokesmen for the World Cup organizers, the FIVB, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not reply to interview requests this week. Mr. Takeuchi, a veteran sportswriter and a press delegate for Japan’s national teams at the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics, said last week that Japan Tobacco is a sponsor “in the beverage category” because it also has a division selling tea, coffee and other drinks.


“JT abides by all laws and voluntary codes in Japan,” Japan Tobacco said in an email Thursday signed by “Media Relations” not by name. “Nowhere in our corporate sponsorship of volleyball games do we advertise our cigarette brands or products.” 


This is “complete nonsense,” said Dr. Manabu Sakuta, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Japan Society for Tobacco Control, which includes 2500 doctors. “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.”


He said his group 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. “Even if the Japanese government stays silent, the world is looking down upon it,” he told the Washington Times. “If the Ministry of Finance leaves these things as it is, this is a violation of the Japanese Constitution to obey international law.” 


Though Japan has hosted every World Cup since 1977, the event is broadcast worldwide, showing athletes from the US, Italy, Germany, Brazil and other nations playing in front of Japan Tobacco ads. Some activists have urged athletes to boycott the event if they are against associating smoking with healthy lifestyles. 


The Framework Convention Alliance, which includes hundreds of civil organizations around the world working to implement the treat on tobacco control, says that Japan must honour its obligations under the UN treaty, which it signed on June 8, 2004. “If Japan doesn’t implement the provisions of the FCTC (2004 treaty), will the international community be able to take seriously its commitment to future treaties?” said FCA Policy Director Francis Thompson. 


Mr. Thompson said that Article 27 of the treaty has a “dispute resolution mechanism,” which requires parties to “act through diplomatic channels to negotiate a settlement.”


Dr. Sakuta, a professor of neurology at Tokyo’s Kyorin University and the Japan Red Cross Medical Center, said his group’s 12 lawyers are currently discussing whether they could obtain a court injunction to immediately halt tobacco ads at the World Cup and force JT and organizers to pay fines. 


He said that Japan’s current actions could harm their 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.”


Tokyo on Wednesday unveiled its Olympic campaign logo, a garland of cherry blossoms. Prime Minister Noda said last week he will serve as a “top adviser” to personally help Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Summer Games. Tokyo lost out to Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympics. Doha, Istanbul, Madrid and Rome are also likely to bid for the 2020 Games. Candidate cities must submit their bids by next February.


A WHO website praised Beijing’s efforts to ban smoking around Olympic venues in China in 2008, in line with the International Olympic Committee’s policy against tobacco usage and sponsorship since the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games. Canadian women’s hockey players were widely criticized for smoking cigars on the ice after winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. 

The World Health Organization says smoking kills almost 6 million people a year, including 600,000 non-smokers. The European Union banned tobacco ads on TV in 1991, and at international sporting events in 2005. 


In Japan’s national volleyball league, Japan Tobacco sponsors the JT Thunders men’s team, and the JT Marvelous women’s team, featuring Japan’s top player, Yoshie Takeshita.


Japan Tobacco “Media Relations” said in an unsigned email that “JT continues to work on youth smoking prevention, while cooperating with concerned parties, as minors should never smoke.” They said they organize the “Youth Smoking Prevention Council” and join police, municipalities and other groups in a “variety of educational campaigns.” JT has “taken a leading part in operating the age verification cigarette vending machines system.”


Kyoichi Miyazaki, Executive Secretary of the Japan Society for Tobacco Control, says Japan Tobacco is using its involvement with youth projects and parent teacher associations as a roundabout way to get youth to start smoking at age 20. “They pretend that they are concerned about protection of minors from smoking before 20. However, this campaign has a big impact on youth to get them to start smoking as if they are already mature adults.”


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