Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand has come under fire for his participation in a local advertising campaign linked to Indonesian cigarette making giant Gudang Garam International.
The controversy centers on the Englishman’s appearance on local billboards and in 30-second commercials in which he wears a jersey with the cigarette company’s logo on it.
Gudang Garam Intersport is an Internet-based sports channel sponsored by Gudang Garam International, one of Indonesia’s largest tobacco companies. Gudang Garam International’s products are reportedly popular among children.
The National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak) has urged Manchester United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, to have his player’s endorsement pulled immediately, and to issue an apology.
Ferdinand is an active supporter of the international children’s charity Unicef.
“The National Commission for Child Protection urged Manchester United to act immediately to remove the promotion, since Rio Ferdinand is a major role model for children and adolescents in Indonesia and around the world,” said Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of Komnas Anak.
“Both Manchester United and Rio Ferdinand are sorry for this misunderstanding and will endeavor to ensure that it is not repeated in the future,” said Karen Shotbolt, Manchester United’s media manager, in a letter from the club to Komnas Anak.
Shotbolt said Ferdinand does not endorse any cigarettes, however he did sign a contract with Gudang Garam International that is valid until Oct. 31, 2012, at which time all advertising will cease.
It is not clear whether Ferdinand was aware of Intersport’s affiliation with the cigarette maker.
According to the Health Ministry, the proportion of teenagers smoking rose from 7 percent in 1995 to 19 percent in 2010.