Jason Kalivas, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:
Just before I saw down to write this post, the U.S. scored a hard-won victory over Algeria at the soccer World Cup. It was a tense, hard-fought match, but our boys pulled through and we advanced to the next round as leaders of our group. It was a big accomplishment - something our side hasn't done in 80 years - and I might have shouted myself hoarse watching it happen. The U.S. team showed excellent athleticism and sportsmanship, and should be justly proud at their win.
Of course, so should every team that won today, or even made it as far as the tournament. But maybe the tournament organizers should be proudest of all. In a big decision, the South African Ministry of Health has made "all 10 official stadiums and public transportation to and from the venues in cities throughout South Africa during the 2010 World Cup" entirely smoke free.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened. FIFA, the organization that governs world soccer competition, put a similar ban on the 2002 World Cup, hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan. In South Africa, though, the ban is particularly poignant. The World Health Organization reports that 80% of smoking-related deaths occur in developing countries like South Africa while, at the same time, 90% of Africans are not protected by any smoking ban. This move, on such a public stage as the World Cup, cements South Africa as a health leader in the African Union and sets an excellent example for her fellow nations to follow. I hope that the anti-smoking laws South Africa has in place will stay strong even after the tournament ends.
Like any other smoking ban, the goal is to protect people from secondhand smoke. With some 80,000 fans at most matches, there are a lot of lives to protect! If people want to smoke that's their choice, of course, but non-smokers shouldn't be forced to inhale just because they're soccer fans. Some people might argue that a request is better than a rule; put up some warning signs, ask people to refrain, and that will be enough. Unfortunately, it's not. The 2006 World Cup held in Germany is a great example. That's exactly what the German government tried, and those requests were mostly ignored. FIFA didn't do much to encourage compliance, either, as they sold branded ashtrays and lighters at the tournament.
Why is this so important? Why come off a U.S. World Cup victory to write a blog post about smoking? Because of that athleticism I was talking about at the start. Soccer players are fit. They run 45 minutes straight, and 15 minutes later they do it again. They chase each other around the field; they dive, tackle, kick, flip and jump. The World Cup tournament is a celebration of their fitness and athleticism, and a poison that would cut into that performance has no place at that celebration. Most people I talk to say health is their reason to quit; why not let them feel they have allies in their goals by showing them some other fitness fans who are smoke free.
My hope is that FIFA will follow on 2010's example and renew their 2002 Smoke-Free Soccer campaign when it comes time for the next World Cup in 2014 (in Brazil!). I hope, too, that everyone out there reading will join me in watching the next celebration of U.S. fitness, on Saturday, June 26th, at 11:30am (PST), when we play to advance against Ghana.