Monday, 28 June 2010

Keep sport healthy

When a drunken Brendan Fevola disgraced himself at last year's Brownlow Medal night, the football community tut-tutted. But the AFL did not do the one thing it needed to do. It did not immediately stop sponsorship of the sport by large alcohol companies.

It was just one more in a string of scandals involving players and alcohol - to say nothing of the problems of fans and alcohol.

Last year the National Preventative Health Taskforce suggested banning alcohol sponsorship of sport, but the AFL was quick to protest. AFL boss Andrew Demetriou said such a ban would "cripple football".

The AFL lists as a Corporate Partner Fosters - the brewing group that makes beers like Carlton Draught and Victoria Bitter, as well as Wolf Blass wines. Individual clubs have other alcohol corporations as sponsors.

Sport is about healthy bodies in the peak of condition - something to which alcohol is anathema. When a brewing giant contributes money to a sport like the AFL, it doesn't do so in order to help sport. It does so to sell its product and return profits to shareholders. The lives damaged by excessive consumption of that product are not its concern.

Fosters is also a Commercial Partner of Cricket Australia - even though the captain of the team, Ricky Ponting, has admitted he has an alcohol problem, and Andrew Symonds has admitted to being an alcoholic. How much damage to players and fans will we tolerate so that brewers can make their profits?

Or take the Australian Grand Prix, which lists as sponsors
Don't we have a problem with drinking and driving in this country? On what possible basis can we support associating the two activities in such a prominent, sanctioned way?

It is extraordinary that the Melbourne Cup includes as its sponsors:
The marketing hype of bubbly, celebratory drinks hides the real ugliness of excessive drinking done at the profit of these sponsors. Check out these photos from Crikey - taken at Flemington on the afternoon of last year's Melbourne Cup.

We have a major problem with alcohol in Australia.

Alcohol-fuelled violence, binge drinking, and health problems are the product of an increasingly ugly alcohol culture, which the alcohol industry feeds for its profits. The rest of us pay for the harm caused by alcohol excess.

Wise leadership requires us to take steps to minimize this harm. Just as with tobacco, we should not permit any advertizing by the alcohol industry, but let's start by banning the bizarre sponsorship of sport by these socially harmful products.

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  1. Well put, Brian. As the head of the 'Flemington Litter Ninjas' I can honestly tell you that, after six months of actively picking up rubbish and recording it (yep, I'm being trained as a 'litter auditor'), beer bottles, cans, mixer drinks and (inevitably) smashed bottles of spirits comprise at least a quarter of what I pick up.

  2. Alcohol is the drug that does the most damage to health and people's lives in our society, yet it is tolerated, even condoned, as "normal". Sport and some industries make a lot of money from it too.

    This is in contrast this with the "zero tolerance" and "war on illegal drugs" that applies to other drugs - and is also ineffective at controlling their usage.

    It is time that we looked past the dollars and failed policies and treated substance abuse as a health issue and put programs in place to both prevent it and hopefully cure people of afflictions.

    This should be informed by medical science and research - not industry lobby group opinions and political compromises.

  3. As an on/off heavy drinker (I sometimes quit for a few months), I really find the lack of non-alcohol-centred social events hard to take. Even if I want a dry night out it's hard to achieve. But dry venues would not stay in business long would they! We need more free, not-for-profit, alcohol-free recreational facilities. Providing alternatives like that, and getting rid of the advertising would be a good start.

    I grew up in Hobart. Supermarkets there do not have liquor departments. While that would seem very inconvenient to many Melbournians, it actually means you have to actually want to buy booze to go and get it. I'm not a wowser, but drugs of addiction probably ought to be regulated a little more thoughtfully.

    At root though, there is one thing that fuels alcoholic excess and violence that is really hard to stop: the alienation of crappy jobs, dysfunctional families, repressive families, poor education, etc etc and that all takes a lot to get over.... a lot of beer (kidding) or a lot of social change!!