Smoking Row: Clay pigeon shooting dreams in ruins

After 70 years in existence, the British Clay Pigeon Shooting Association last year clinched its first sponsorship deal ... with Imperial Tobacco. Ian Burrell hears that next July's Embassy World Clay Pigeon Shooting Championship is a sitting duck for new legislation on tobacco sponsorship.
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Britain might have eight world champions at clay pigeon shooting but to the nation's broadcasters the sport, like real-life pigeons, is seen as something rather messy and unattractive that they would rather not touch.

So desperate for publicity were the sport's bosses that earlier this year they actually paid a private television company to make a film which was given to Sky for transmission on one of its minor channels.

The film would not have been possible at all if it had not been for a deal last year with Imperial Tobacco - which has pledged more than pounds 100,000 over the next five years to keep the sport alive.

The arrangement means that Embassy cigarettes now give their name to the British and World championships, which are due to take place next summer in west London. But now the event and the very future of competitive clay pigeon shooting itself is under threat from government plans to sweep tobacco sponsorship out of British sport.

Clay pigeon shooting began in the 1880s and has grown to half a million participants in Britain alone. Among the most famous is Jackie Stewart, the former world motor racing champion.

Emilio Orduna, director of the BCPSA, said the sport was run "totally and utterly" on a shoestring. He said that government reassurances that sports would be able to find other sponsors outside the tobacco industry were not welcome. "I am afraid the CPSA has been running for 70 years and we have always been looking for a sponsor. It is not as simple as it sounds," he said.

When last year the CPSA finally clinched its dream deal, it thought it had guaranteed the future of its headquarters in Corby, Northamptonshire, and its nine-strong staff. Mr Orduna said that the IT money had enabled the association to plan a world championships worthy of the name.

Paul Sadler, for Imperial Tobacco, said the company had withdrawn from Formula One - where John Player Special was a famous sponsorship name - in the early 1980s, and had switched to "grass-roots" British-based sports, such as angling, darts and clay pigeon shooting.

"They tend to attract the sort of people who might smoke our products," he said. "We are looking to get our brand name known among existing adult smokers."