Game plan: the change we need

Game plan: the change we need

Sport is embedded in Australian culture, synonymous with hot summers and the great outdoors, and is enjoyed by children and families across the country.

Sadly, professional sports are saturated with alcohol promotion. It’s almost impossible to know where the game ends and the alcohol marketing begins.

Alcohol harm is one of our nation’s greatest preventive health challenges, yet young people are being targeted and recruited by alcohol industry advertising like the tobacco industry preyed on children in the past.

Alcohol brands are in constant view both on the grounds and during television broadcasts – from the naming rights and broadcast commercials, through to uniform branding, promotional merchandise, websites, and the scoreboard, fences, pitch and wickets.

And that’s a problem because international and Australian research have shown that repeat exposure to alcohol promotions is associated with young people drinking more and from an earlier age.

In January, international scientific journal Addiction presented the latest evidence on alcohol marketing and its impact on children, making a strong case for urgent intervention.

Drinking from a young age can adversely affect the developing brain, particularly the frontal region responsible for self-regulation and impulse control. It is vital to ensure that advertising does not promote alcohol to young people at such a vulnerable age.

Alcohol marketing during sport has clear features that will appeal to children. It promotes the idea that consumption is linked to sport, positive personality traits, and success.

Sport is a health promotion activity and its association with an unhealthy product such as alcohol is counter-intuitive at best and harmful at worst.

It is time to end this unhealthy relationship. 

Transitioning to a healthier sporting landscape

To allow time for adaptation, an Alcohol Sponsorship Replacement Fund may facilitate phasing out of alcohol sponsorship in sport. This should be funded by the proceeds of alcohol tax reform. Given the current levels of alcohol sponsorship, a relatively modest investment of $20 million over 4 years would allow sufficient time for sporting codes to adjust. Alternative sponsors will be readily available. In NRL, for example, the value of the most recent contract with Telstra ($6.5 million) was more than four times greater than that of the largest alcohol sponsor (Carlton United Brewery, $1.5 million).

Sport has successfully transitioned away from reliance on tobacco advertising. It is now time to address its growing reliance on alcohol.