Indonesian child protection groups catch flak after cigarette brand-sponsored badminton club drops children’s tryouts

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

Should a tobacco company sponsor youth involvement in one of Indonesia’s most beloved sports? A couple of child protection groups were understandably against the idea, but now they’re facing a barrage of criticism in the country for causing a racket that led to the dissolution of a famous children’s badminton talent search program.

PB Djarum, Indonesia’s leading badminton club, has indefinitely stopped its annual youth badminton tryouts following objections by child protection groups the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) and Lentera Anak Foundation (YLA) over the use of the Djarum cigarette brand in the program.

Djarum is one of Indonesia’s largest kretek (clove cigarettes) producers. It established PB Djarum in 1974, and the club has produced many Indonesian badminton greats, such as Liem Swie King and Christian Hadinata.

YLA first made its reservations about cigarette sponsorship in PB Djarum’s youth tryouts — which, since the program’s launch in 2006, has regularly attracted a huge number of participants — in July this year. In early August, KPAI met with several ministries to voice their objection, saying that while they support the nurturing of children in badminton, the children “must not be exploited.”

KPAI then asked regional governments to review their permits allowing the tryouts to take place in their respective regions, recommending that they should be prohibited unless Djarum removes all mention of its brand from the program’s name and participants’ jerseys.

During PB Djarum’s tryouts in Purwokerto, Central Java over the weekend, the club announced that it was scrapping the entire program for an unspecified length of time and that it would rely on scouts to identify talented young badminton players from now on.

“We have explained and there are many proofs that PB Djarum is not a tobacco product. Last year we received the Sports Institution of the Year from the Youth and Sports Ministry, and that is proof enough that we are not a cigarette product,” program director Yoppy Rosimin said in a press release published by PB Djarum’s official website.

“And in [the Purwokerto] tryouts we are saying farewell for the time being, because in 2020 we have decided to halt the general tryouts.”

Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi voiced his displeasure over the imminent end of the PB Djarum tryouts in an Instagram post, saying that the program has been essential in identifying potential world champions. 

Current PB Djarum athlete Melati Daeva Oktavianti also weighed in on the controversy and dismissed any notion that children were exploited by PB Djarum, saying that nobody tried to sell her cigarettes or force her to wear the Djarum jersey when she took part in the tryouts as a child.

On Twitter, the hashtags #bubarkanKPAI (disband KPAI) and #bubarkanLenteraAnak (disband YLA) are among the top trending topics in Indonesia today, as netizens blame the groups for potentially hurting Indonesia’s future in badminton. Many also lambasted the groups, particularly KPAI, for speaking out on this issue when they have allegedly been silent when Indonesian children were exposed to radical beliefs.

Speaking to the media yesterday, KPAI Chairman Susanto said the commission did not actually instruct PB Djarum to stop the tryouts. He also said that Indonesia’s Child Protection Laws prohibits tobacco companies from promoting their products at events or activities catered for children.

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