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Please Boycott This Tournament!

Belinda Cunnison
26th October 2009.

Largely neglected by the mainstream media (so far) this story was reported yesterday in the Observer. Tennis player Roger Federer has been urged by health specialists to boycott the Basle ATP World Tour.

Health specialists calling for the boycott of a sporting event? The only possible explanation is the partial funding of the tournament by tobacco company sponsorship. Why else would health specialists urge a tennis player to forgo an opportunity to play tennis?

Switzerland, not being part of the EU, does not confrorm to legislation emanating from Brussels that bans tobacco company sponsorship of sporting and other events. Switzerland nonetheless possesses its anti-smoking group, OxyRomandie, whose spokesman was determined to emphasise the hole rather than the doughnut: Of last year's tournament he said:

At the end of the match the young ball boys and ball girls received a medal from Roger Federer in recognition of having served the cause of Davidoff so well. Each medal bore the Davidoff logo in order to make sure that these potential future smokers will know which cigarette brand to choose when they start smoking.

He neglected to mention that the medal would remind the young people of their participation in ensuring the smooth operation of an international tennis tournaent.

The BMJ has also reported this story and being a non-subscriber I could only read up to where OxyRomandie is trying to get an injunction against the tournament being shown on Swiss television, on the grounds that tobacco advertising is banned on Swiss television, and Davidoff promotion has been prominent on bill boards and clothing in previous Basle tournaments

The fact that Swiss law differs from EU law infuriates anti-tobacco campaigners everywhere – in France their threats have derailed Eurosport from broadcasting  coverage of the tournament in France.

The Observer claims that both the World Health Organisation and ASH (UK) are furious at the Swiss position. Once again these organisations presume to greater wisdom than Swiss voters by huffing and puffing about Swiss law. Futher pressure has come in the form of UNESCO's refusal of a donation from the Basle tournament's organisers.

Apart from withdrawing substantial funding from a major sporting event it is hard to see what such posturing can achieve. Enormous companies with healthy profits will use their profits, whatever the likes of the World Health Organisation thinks about it. it's standard business practice not to waste money on taxes if it can be used for something else. If there is too much advertising at the Basle tournament, this may be partly a result of the advertising ban throughout the rest of Europe.

Federer is said not to have answered the health specialists' call for him to boycott the tournament. He may well wonder whether pulling out of the tournament is likely to stop any of the ball boys or ball girls from smoking in the future.

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