I suppose I just feel like a rant. This is probably raking over old ground that nobody else cares about any more. And it really isn’t just an excuse to take issue with something else attributed to Peter Varney. But sometimes I can’t let things rest (like the Tevez affair and West Ham still being in the Premiership) and I take issue when the truth (of which I am of course the sole arbiter) is being trifled with.
So first prize for resurrecting a seemingly resolved issue and lying in pursuit of an ulterior motive at a public venue goes to the stadium announcer at the Gravesend & Northfleet/Ebbsfleet/Myfootballclub stadium. The ground capacity we are told is a few thousand and on Monday night there were around 100 present. Yet we were informed not just that the stadium was a non-smoking venue but that this policy was indeed “for our own benefit”.
Leaving aside the fact that I would have had to seek out other spectators if I was intent on imposing some passive smoking (which as a non-smoker would have been difficult), I do not need some muppet deciding for me what is and is not in my own interest – or rather trying to present spurious reasons for a decision. I have no problem if that club decides that it’s entire stadium is a no-smoking venue, just don’t try to suggest that such a decision has been taken on my behalf. You didn’t ask me and you don’t know what is in my best interest.
For the record I am not (I hope) some sad ‘libertarian’ defending some simplistic form of personal liberty. I am a former smoker (no, I didn’t stop because of the new legislation; I look forward to the day when it no longer matters and I can resume puffing on outsize cigars as port and/or brandy just don’t feel the same without them). I am well aware of the very real health risks. I was/am opposed to the ban on smoking in pubs – on the grounds that these are commercial enterprises and nobody has any ‘right’ to go into one.
Most of all I am disgusted by the way that the anti-smoking legislation was presented as something other than a way of saving the state money. What was wrong with an open and informed debate on the issue – other than that it would necessarily have had to encompass other, less comfortable (for the authorities) aspects of health spending? Instead we were force-fed a stream of sanctimonious twaddle by people who for reasons of their own opposed smoking. The most offensive were pen-pushers talking in terms of how many lives would be saved. Sorry, no lives are saved, only extended. To the best of my knowledge the death rate in this world has always been 100% (the as yet unsubstantiated case of one J.Christ notwithstanding).
Come to think of it, I wasn’t asked about The Valley becoming a non-smoking venue either. I remember being unconvinced by the ‘Valley Smokescreen’ defence of the new policy in the Sheff Wed programme and thought I’d take another look. Yup, thought so. It’s half-truths dressed up to try to form a poor (I believe) argument (I should add here that Charlton are no more ‘guilty’ on this matter than any other Football League club).
“It’s the law of the land – and the club itself will be fined if fans refuse to abide by the national no-smoking legislation that came into force last month”. Well, it’s undoubtedly true that we are all obliged to comply with the law of the land, and there is no doubt that as The Valley has been designated a complete no-smoking venue the club would be fined if it did not impose the rule. But does the law of the land require a smoking ban in all football stadiums? Well, no it doesn’t.
“The change in the law means we can no longer allow smoking within the confines of the stadium …. This means the entire stadium is a no-smoking venue once fans are through the turnstiles or gates, or inside any area of the building”. So said Varney. I don't think that strictly speaking this is true. Rather The Football League in early 2007 took the decision to go further than was required by the incoming legislation and to opt for a complete smoking ban within the confines of all Football League member stadiums. So Varney could have been correct to say that Charlton can no longer allow smoking within the confines of the stadium and remain compliant members of The Football League – which is of course a perfectly reasonable line of defence. But not that the change in law requires this.
The Charlton article went on to expose its own shortcomings. “The new laws, which came into force on July 1st, mean there is no room for compromise – and indeed, The Football League has introduced even more strict guidelines affecting member clubs”. I’m confused here. If the new legislation left no room for compromise, why would The Football League feel obliged to introduce stricter guidelines? And how could it? How can you have a ‘stricter guideline’ than one that allows ‘no room for compromise’?
My reading of the actual legislation, taking account of the FA booklet outlining the implications for sporting stadiums, is that there could be smoking areas within stadiums (indeed, if there was ‘no room for compromise’ why did the FA produce a booklet for guidance?). The law is not (not could it be) precise about every instance/area where smoking might be allowed; the broad rule is that such an area is not enclosed or substantially enclosed. So a club not bound by self-adopted Football League rules could I believe introduce a smoking area within its stadium having checked that the area in question is not at odds with the enclosed/substantially enclosed requirement. I imagine that this would involve getting approval from the authorities, take time and effort and require signposting. But it could be done.
The Charlton article – which echoes wording from just about every other Football League club – went on to peddle the line that a blanket no-smoking policy in all areas of stadiums was popular among supporters. “In a survey conducted by the league last season, almost 80% of fans advocated the introduction of some form of smoke-free policy at matches, with half of all fans supporting an outright ban”. Sounds convincing? Well, not really. Put another way, there was a clear majority in favour of limiting smoking in stadiums but a 50-50 split on an outright ban. So the policy adopted by The Football League is one which by its own admission was opposed – or at the least not supported - by half of the people canvassed.
I’m dubious about all the claptrap regarding clubs wanting to encourage healthier living, a new breed of supporter etc. So what could be the real motive for introducing a ban that clearly was not demanded by legislation and which was not supported by a majority of fans? Doesn’t take much imagination does it? I imagine it saves money in areas such as insurance and cleaning and avoids any danger that clubs could fall foul of the new legislation. Why not just say so? It’s exactly the same reason why it is now apparently illegal to smoke on the platform at Blackheath railway station – which is as open air as it is possible to get. (When I remember I’m going to buy some cigars and stand on the platform and pretend to be smoking without lighting up; try proving in court that I was actually smoking.)
Again, I don’t have a problem with this. I don’t have a problem with Charlton deciding that The Valley is a no-smoking venue (I have no ‘right’ to attend matches). I do have a (small) problem with the way a decision taken by The Football League, after (it says) consultation with the clubs, for as yet undisclosed reasons, is presented as something other than it is and used as a smokescreen. (Ha ha.)