Drug Fight Malawi executive director, Nelson Zakeyo argues that the move taken by the tobacco manufacturing firm to bankroll cash strapped Big Bullets Football Club will increase the usage of its products among the minors and the youths.
He says Football Association of Malawi has made a biggest blunder and is in conflict with principles espoused by world soccer governing body FIFA that discourages acceptance of sponsorship from tobacco firms by allowing the deal to go ahead.
“This is in sharp contradiction to the healthy life style of sports as espoused by FIFA.The tobacco sponsorship deal is also in conflict with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) three which ensures healthy lives and promotes well being for all at all ages,” argues Zakeyo.
Zakeyo is appealing to the FA to cancel the deal and find alternative sponsorship for the most popular club in the country.
Big Bullets Football club has been running without sponsorship depending on well wishers sympathy from the time former state president Bakili Muluzi who took it under his wings in 2003 pulled a plug in 2005.
“This is a call to Football Association of Malawi to assist Big Bullets and all other football clubs in the country to find alternative source of sponsorship other than those from tobacco and alcohol industries,” he argues.
However, Malawi FA chief executive officer, Suzgo Nyirenda has faulted the NGO for rushing to the media before getting clear facts from the local FA on the reasons, tobacco; alcohol beverage manufacturing firms are involved in bankrolling the beautiful game.
He explains in such partnership there are rules that must be adhered to that his organization took every step to seek FIFA input before allowing the deal to go ahead and that the world soccer governing body gave it its blessing to stand.
“For your own information we struck the Nyasa Tobacco Manufacturing deal in March and started engaging FIFA the same month. We discussed until September when the world football governing body gave us a go ahead,” explains Nyirenda.
Sports analysts in the country have leapt to the defence of the deal with, Charles Nyirenda former Malawi FA chief executive officer and columnist, Pilirani Kachinziri of Times Media Group criticizing the stance taken by the NGO.
Nyirenda told a local online publication recently that he sees no harm for the tobacco firm to engage in the sponsorship of the beautiful game.
“While to bacco companies must avoid wooing minors into either smoking or indulging them in tobacco related advertising, there is nothing wrong in sponsoring sports discipline,” says Nyirenda.
In his recent article, Kachinziri questions the rationale Drug Fight Malawi has taken in this issue without offering alternatives to Big Bullets the team he argues is so desperate for money.
“It is absurd for Drug Fight Malawi to propose the annulment of sponsorship without offering alternatives to the team that is so desperate for money,” he argues.
He adds tobacco is the country’s chief foreign currency earner and if this civil society organization had any issues to advocate for the best option was to lobby against the cultivation of the crop in the country.
“After all tobacco is Malawi’s green gold and why does this NGO not lead a campaign to stop tobacco cultivation instead of fighting those on the receiving end?” Kachinziri adds.
The past two decades many local firms that used to sponsor various sporting disciplines in the country called it quits in putting their financial resources in sports and there have been few willing to take the burden.
But Zakeyo is adamant arguing though acknowledging that the crop is the country chief foreign exchange earner there is no justification to promote the product in an arena where it is likely to encounter the heavy presence of minors.
“It is not in order to promote for the use of tobacco that would in turn see children using the product. The promotion of tobacco use will turn our own children into users and life smokers, hence dooming their future,” he says.
Amidst this hullabaloo, journalist, Peter Chipanga suggests in his commentary that it was better for the Drug Fight Malawi to engage the FA and Big Bullets FC out of public eye than involving the media in getting its message across.
“The best way out was for closed door meeting rather than ambushing one another in bursting combat, otherwise Malawi has ever had a tobacco processing company sponsoring teams, with another sponsoring a national cup and owning a sports ground,” he says.