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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK

UK Politics

Sports demand equal tobacco rights

Snooker may have until 2006 to find new financial backing

The government's admission it is considering giving snooker a reprieve from the tobacco sponsorship ban had led to angry demands for equal treatment.

Snooker could win an additional three-year extension before it is forced to stop accepting cigarette industry backing.

The only sport so far to have such status is Formula One motor racing.

[ image: Anti-smoking campaigners are furious at the possible extension]
Anti-smoking campaigners are furious at the possible extension
Snooker representatives welcomed the reports, but other sports have accused the government of discrimination.

The Institute of Sports Sponsorship said on Monday it planned to write to Sports Minister Tony Banks and the Health Secretary Frank Dobson to demand equality.

The institute's director, Mike Reynolds, said: "If there is a case for the continuation of tobacco sponsorship for a wealthy, high-profile sport like Formula One then the argument certainly applies for snooker which is struggling to fund some major tournaments.

"The case is even stronger for other sports such as fishing, darts and icehockey who are much more reliant on tobacco sponsorship, and also have a claim to international status."

A European ruling bans sports organisers from taking tobacco sponsorship after 2003. The three-year extension for Formula One was granted as it is an international competition.

But it followed intense lobbying from the industry, which had threatened to move its races to the Far East.

It also proved an embarrassing episode for Britain's Labour Government, when it was disclosed Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone had given the party a £1m donation before the 1997 election.

The BBC's Betty Redondo: "No final decision will be made until later in the year"
The government has said no final decision has been reached yet on whether snooker should win a reprieve from the ban on tobacco sponsorship.

A Department of Health spokeswoman insisted that the government remained committed to honouring Labour's election manifesto pledge to end tobacco advertising.

"This is nothing new," she said. "The EU agreed that sports operating on a global scale would have an extra three years to introduce the tobacco advertising ban so their sports would not be jeopardised."

But anti-smoking campaigners expressed dismay at the news, which came on World Tobacco Day - an annual event organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to persuade people to kick the smoking habit.

Dr Derek Yach, of the WHO, said: "Any partial bans keep the message up there about the desirability of tobacco use.

"It gives the tobacco industry another loophole."

ASH Director Clive Bates: "Snooker is certainly not a world event"
Clive Bates, of UK anti-smoking group Ash, said: "No-one could seriously claim that snooker is a global sport.

"The vast majority of top players are UK or Irish and the World Cup is always held in Sheffield."

But the move was welcomed by Tory peer Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, the president of governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.

"I suppose the government has come to realise that snooker in particular - and possibly other sports as well - will have to be given the same playing field as the rest," he told the BBC.

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