Danger, sport may damage your health

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The Independent Online
I happened to be in London yesterday, trying to find my way back to the country again, when I bumped into my old friend Adrian Wardour- Street, the doyen of British PR. I steered him into an adjacent coffee bar, sat him down with a large black coffee (or an espresso doppio! as he will insist on loudly calling it ) and asked him how things were in the murky world of public relations.

"Don't hear much from Max Clifford these days," I said.

Adrian smiled to himself. "Dear old Max," he said.

It was the tone of voice that PR people use when they are about to put someone down.

"You don't approve of Max Clifford?" I said. "But I distinctly remember Max Clifford before the election saying that he was going to bring the Tory government down. And now they are down. Isn't that an achievement ?"

"Max Clifford is a contradiction in terms," said Adrian, not answering the question directly, as is the wont of PR men. "He is a PR man who is better known than most of his clients. Now, the PR man should always stay in the shadows and never be seen, but dear old Max has not always been totally able to resist the lure of the limelight and goes on TV and radio as often as you like. Max Clifford has, in a sense, become his own client. Unwise, Max."

"And how about you, oh man in the shadows?"

Adrian looked round him and lowered his voice.

"Me? I've got the big news story of the week. Up and running. And never seen my name connected with it once."

"The Michael Howard story?" I said. "I didn't know you were connected with that?"

"That's not a story," said Adrian disgustedly. "That's a long-drawn-out obituary notice. I'm talking about the sports-and-smoking saga."

That made sense. Adrian was always likely to be seen

where the smell of money was, and the news that smoking sponsorship was going to be banned from sporting events had sent waves of worry round the world of sport.

"I take it you are all in favour of sponsorship being retained, and smoking logos being splashed all over the place?" I said.

"Good Lord, no," said Adrian. "I think it's an excellent idea if smoking and sport are separated."

"So you are acting for the sports people in this? You're on the side of health?"

"No, no. I am acting for the tobacco industry."

"Just a mo," I said. "If you are for smoking, then presumably you are also for a connection with sport?"

"Ah!" said Adrian. "That's all old hat now. Our new line is that sport is dangerous, and we in smoking want no more to do with a potential killer like contact sport."

"Hold on," I said. "You're saying that sport is the dangerous one, not smoking?"

"Smoking causes disease," said Adrian. "We all know that. We have as good as admitted it. But what the sports people never tell you is that sport is bad for you too. We have statistics to show that sports people are more prone to injury than non-sports players. And the higher up the sport you go, the worse it gets. Even in non-contact sports like tennis, people are always going out of the game for long periods. Boris Becker's wrist. Agassi's thingy. Steffi Graf's whatsit. Monica Seles's ... "

"Monica Seles was attacked by a madman."

"Yes, but only because she played tennis."

I opened my mouth to object when I started thinking of all the injuries that athletes get, and how long out of the game they are. I thought of Middlesborough and Ravanelli limping off in the Cup Final. I thought of the day that Middlesborough hadn't got 11 fit men to put on a field. I then thought of hamstrings and groin strains and pulled muscles and hairline fractures, and I began to wonder, not for the first time, whether Adrian Wardour-Street might not be on to a winner, even though he was being paid to say it.

"You see?" said Adrian. "So our plan is to take the high moral ground and announce that the tobacco industry no longer wishes to be associated with something as dangerous and anti-social as sport. Many children take up sport through peer pressure, we will say, not knowing that they are hooked on to a risky practice and that in 20 years' time they may be broken- down prop forwards or worn-out fast bowlers. Far safer to stick to fags and booze."

"Do you really mean that?"

"I see a poster," said Adrian dreamily. "It shows poor old Muhammad Ali as he is now. The slogan says: 'Muhammad Ali never smoked'. Think that will get the message across?"

He may have a point.