This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
In Indonesia, big cigarette companies play an instrumental role in bringing young potential star athletes to the national stage, hosting and sponsoring sports events across the nation in search of top talent and providing sports scholarships to promising children. Cigarette companies are pervasive in many aspects of Indonesians’ lives and play a key role in the country’s music, culture, and entertainment scene.
Earlier this week, news broke that a youth badminton tournament held yearly by the Djarum Foundation, the humanitarian division of one of Indonesia’s largest cigarette companies, would be cancelled after this year due to backlash from the Indonesian Commission for Child Protection (KPAI) and Yayasan Lentera Anak (YLA), a children’s non-governmental organisation. Unsurprisingly, the cancellation of a much-awaited, high-profile event sparked outrage online.
Some sports fans didn’t take the news so well, resulting in the hashtag #BubarkanKPAI (#AbolishKPAI), which trended all day on Monday.
“The 2019 auditions will be a farewell, because we have decided that in 2020, we will no longer hold public auditions,” Yoppy Rasimin, Program Director of the Djarum Foundation’s Sports Division, told local media. “This is unfortunate for many of us, but for the sake of everyone involved, it’s best for us to put it to an end so the issue can simmer down and we can think straight.”
Indonesians have an impressive track record in badminton, even on the international stage. Local badminton superstars like Liem Swie King, Tontowi Ahmad, Lilyana Natsir, and Kevin Sanjaya, are all Djarum-bred athletes.
Djarum’s decision to stop public try-outs revealed a deep-seated problem in the coaching of Indonesia’s young athletes. Large conglomerates — even the controversial ones — are the backbone of specialised athletic training. When controversial sponsors decide to withdraw from events, like in the case of Djarum, the government and private companies aren’t always able to step in and take their place.
Ainur Rohman, a sports journalist for local media, said that the Djarum vs. KPAI scandal brings back painful memories for many, like when Gudang Garam, another cigarette giant, stopped coaching young table tennis players, or when Wismilak/Sampoerna, also a cigarette company, stopped training tennis players, resulting in a huge blow to the tennis industry.
Many agree that the coaching of up-and-coming athletes should remain the responsibility of the private sector, while others believe the government should take charge. Handing over the reins to the government to continue such programs, as done by Djarum in this most recent case, isn’t always ideal. Nurdin Purnomo, founder of the Indonesian Federation for Recreational Sports, echoes this sentiment, saying he prefers zero government involvement so that players of different sports don’t have to fight over funding.
The controversy between Djarum and the KPAI, which has been ongoing since February, began when KPAI and YLA told reporters that the Djarum Badminton Scholarship Auditions, which have been held yearly since 2006, violate cigarette promotion regulations.
The regulation in question is Governmental Regulation No. 209 of 2012. Under this law, Djarum’s usage of its logo and trademark at badminton auditions is considered brand imaging of tobacco products. According to the KPAI, such cigarette company-sponsored events should not involve children under 18.
The scandal intensified when this year’s first badminton try-out was held in Bandung in July. “This badminton audition held by the Djarum Foundation is a form of veiled child exploitation by the cigarette industry,” KPAI Commissioner Napza Sitti Hikmawatty said at a press conference a day after the audition.
According to local media, the KPAI’s definition of child exploitation is the transfer of knowledge to the children that Djarum is a cigarette brand. “We’ve done a survey with the kids. Four out of five of them know that Djarum is a cigarette brand, and that the Djarum Foundation is synonymous with cigarettes. Even though they say Djarum is a separate entity from the Djarum Foundation, the survey results don’t reflect that,” Hikmawatty said.
“If the Djarum Foundation wants to continue hosting such events, we have no problem as long as they scrap their logo,” Hikmawatty continued.
After discussions with the government, Djarum finally agreed to remove their logo and the name “Djarum” from the second audition in Purwokerto on Sunday. This was also when Djarum decided it would not hold auditions next year.
Despite the backlash and the hashtag, the KPAI said that they are only responsible for pointing out the laws that apply to Djarum. “The KPAI didn’t stop any badminton tournaments. The KPAI urges all parties to support young Indonesians to develop their talents and excel in sports. Indonesian youth’s achievements will certainly have a positive impact on our nation,” Susanto, head of the KPAI who goes by one name, told local media.
Meanwhile, Seto Mulyadi, head of the Indonesian Children’s Institute, believes Djarum acted immaturely in its decision to halt future auditions in response to KPAI pressure. He thinks that if Djarum wholeheartedly supported badminton as a sport, it would continue to train children while distancing the brand from the auditions, which includes not using funds from cigarette sales.
“Where did their genuine and sincere interest in coaching children go? If they were serious, they wouldn’t have stopped auditions for commercial reasons,” Mulyadi told local media.
Hikmawatty said her organisation has held meetings with various ministries, including the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the Ministry of Human Development and Culture regarding this issue. With Imam Nahrawi, the Minister of Youth and Sports, insisting Djarum’s tournaments contain no element of child exploitation, the debate is set to continue.