World Cup a no-smoking zone

The Sweeper
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The Independent Football

Hopes for a controversy-free World Cup next year look destined to go up in smoke because the organisers want to ban tobacco consumption at the event. Senior figures from Japan, South Korea and Fifa, football's world governing body, met in Sapporo this week and agreed to a joint draft statement on non-smoking in the 20 stadiums. The idea originally came from the World Health Organisation and has the full backing of Fifa, which is hoping to win brownie points from the international community for responsible behaviour.

The only problem for the tournament organisers is that the host nations are among the biggest consumers of cigarettes in the world. In Japan, there are vending machines selling tobacco products on the corner of most streets. Japan Tobacco, one of the country's major industrial giants, is a government monopoly. The idea of any no-smoking zones anywhere outside of a few "western" establishments in Tokyo is anathema. And any suggestion that you can't light up whenever and wherever you choose would be greeted with national uproar. As our man in the Land of the Rising Sun told us yesterday: "This is the absolutely the most improbable plan that you could ever think of trying to implement." Perhaps that's why Japan's World Cup organising committee, Jawoc, has omitted to mention this week's decision on its website, while the Koreans have glossed over it in a couple of sentences. Better to wait until nearer the time before telling the public for fear of a national uprising.

Perhaps, we wondered, the ban will just be a smokescreen, and in practice Fifa and the organisers will tell the world about their good intentions, but not implement them. Not so, says Fifa. "The two organising committees have committed themselves to the Fifa-WHO initiative that 2002 should essentially be a non-smoking World Cup," a Fifa spokesman said. "This will include spectators, media and VIP areas." He added that there may be some limited smoking zones in some stadiums, but others may be totally smoke-free.

"Even for Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, who enjoys the odd cigar?" we asked. "Certainly," said the spokesman. "He's not a regular smoker, just now and then. And he's not been seen doing it in a stadium."

In the run-up to the World Cup finals, we invite you get in the mood by submitting haiku (traditional Japanese poems) on any footballing theme. The occasional bottle of sake will be winging its way to those we like the best. To commemorate the healthy intentions of the tournament organisers, we have commissioned a special first offering from our resident bard, Mr Toteru Futaboru. Sticking rigidly to the haiku principle of 5-7-5 (syllables) he came up with the following.

Japan Korea

Two thousand and two World Cup

Put your fags out now

News reaches us from the Low Countries of a precursor to England's big game against Germany today. We hope it does not prove too prophetic. The English motor racing media, in Belgium to cover tomorrow's Grand Prix at Spa, took on their German counterparts in a football match on Thursday evening. The tie was played on the very training pitch that England used at Euro 2000, and although the line-ups were generally superstar-free, the Germans did player a ringer up front. His name was Michael Schumacher.

Ever the dedicated pro, the F1 champion, who has a personal endorsement deal with Nike and whose Ferrari team is sponsored by Marlborough, was at pains to cover up all the logos on his borrowed kit featuring either adidas or the tobacco company West, despite the fact that he was taking part in a low-key kickabout. For the record, he also scored the Germans' final goal as they won 7-2.

AT LAST. We know the identity of the baby who will get £1,000 from Nationwide for being the first child born after the start of League season on 11 August. The lucky tot, destined to be a Barnsley fan by dint of her dad's affiliation, is Emily Stewart, who arrived at precisely 3pm on the allotted day. Her arrival no doubt brought much glee to her mum Catherine, and her dad, Jonathan, whose birthday is also 11 August and whose team was being drubbed 4-0 by Bradford just as he was celebrating his daughter's birth.

Nationwide has also given £100 to the next 10 babies born. Spookily, one of them, James Train, from Hull, born at 3.02pm, also has parents called Catherine and Jonathan. And even more spookily, Jonathan's grandfather and great-great grandfather both had birthdays of 11 August. What delighted us most about James's birth, however, was that his parents rushed 100 miles back from holiday in Hawes, North Yorkshire, to make sure their son was born in Hull.

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