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February 7, 2001

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Ban on tobacco sponsorship may hit sport

Indian sports officials fear losing crucial revenue after the government announced on Tuesday that it planned to ban the sponsorship of sports events by tobacco firms.

"If the government brings in the legislation we have no option but to look for alternative avenues," a senior Board of Control for Cricket in India official said.

Earlier, the government said it planned to introduce legislation seeking to ban smoking in public places and sponsorship of sports and cultural events by tobacco firms in the next session of parliament that starts on February 19.

Direct sponsorship of sports events by tobacco companies has fallen sharply in the last few years but tobacco manufacturers often use so-called "surrogate advertising" by promoting sports events through non-tobacco making subsidiaries.

A spokesman for India's largest tobacco firm, ITC Ltd said his company would comment only after studying the details of the proposals.

"Unless we see the entire proposal and also study the implications, fuller details, it will be unfair to react," he said.

It was not clear whether the government would also clamp down on advertising by divisions of tobacco companies such as "Wills Sport", an ITC subsidiary which is the main sponsor of cricket and golf in India.

ITC sponsors the $300,000 Indian Open golf tournament through its sports subsidiary, Wills Sport.

Last year, the Calcutta-based company was also involved in sponsoring the $400,000 Indian Open tennis championship and the $750,000 World doubles tennis championship through its division, Gold Flake Expressions Greeting Cards.


Wills and Gold Flake are ITC's main cigarette brands.

A BCCI official said ITC, which is the logo sponsor of the Indian cricket team, spent 3.3 million rupees on every Test match and 3.2 million rupees on each one-day international it sponsored last year.

Last year, India played 34 one-day internationals and six Tests. In 1999, they played 43 one-dayers and 10 Tests.

The BCCI official said ITC also spent five million rupees a year on a domestic cricket tournament.

"We would like to believe that we are sponsored by a leisure company rather than a tobacco firm," said Digraj Singh, director for sales and marketing at Tiger Sports which organises the Indian professional golf tour.

"But if the government does stop subsidiary companies like Wills Sport, it will be a major setback for golf in India. After all, they have been instrumental in promoting the game."

A leading sports event manager, however, did not think the move to ban sponsorship of sports events by tobacco companies would hit revenues.

"Though there is a lot of tobacco sponsorship in Indian sport, I have seen over the last five or six years that companies putting money in sports events are increasing manifold," Ravi Krishnan, senior executive at International Management Group, said.

"Wherever tobacco sponsorship has been curtailed internationally, it has been found that it hasn't made a serious dent on (sports) sponsorship because of a variety of new companies getting interested," he added.

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