Over the past decade or so the bodies that run Australia’s most popular sports have proudly presented themselves as world leaders — not just in making their games happen in a big way but also in social responsibility.
Whether it be in helping to raise funds for breast cancer, in reducing racism and promoting aboriginal welfare or, more recently, in trying to make football more gay-friendly, the AFL, in particular, has put itself out there as the organisation that cares and wants to show others the way.
The others have followed suit in many areas, determined not to be seen to fall behind in the ever-present race for brand enhancement. So you would think it would be a natural fit for these sports to be leading the world on measures to eliminate the cause of the greatest number of preventable deaths in our community.
But rather than doing all it can to stop the insidious spread of the booze culture in society, they are doing the opposite, by allowing their games to be a major promotional vehicle for alcohol, and, worse, helping to spread the message to children.
If it’s not footy then it’s cricket, as we will be reminded during the upcoming Ashes series in England. Two decades ago cricket administrators had to be dragged kicking and screaming away from tobacco advertising – by legislation.
They have the same blind adherence to alcohol dollars today. Every time a batsman stands at the crease during this year’s Tests, it will be as plain as the eye-catching logo on his shirt he is not there only to make runs. His job is to sell beer. Sadly, the same can be said for the commentators, who during the recent Australian summer took on the dual role of describing the play while reminding us that this or that beer was a particularly good thirst quencher.
These days advertising for booze floods the television coverage of the major codes of footy as well as international cricket, without so much as a faint red flush on the faces of the senior executives who love to tell us how important it is to them that their sports contribute positively to society.
However, despite their unashamed hypocrisy and wilful blindness, they cannot avoid the harsh reality of the damage done to society by this product they endorse so fulsomely. According to various reputable surveys over the past decade, alcohol costs the Australian community between $15-$20 billion per year in death, disease, accidents and violence.
No other ingested substance causes more preventable deaths, leads to more domestic violence, creates more violent attacks in public and is more at odds with the health and fitness message we are meant to take from sport.
Forget performance-enhancing drugs, alcohol is the sinister force in our sporting codes these days, and the active promotion of it in our biggest sports – to the eternal shame of these administrators — is going to help produce another generation racked with all the obvious social problems alcohol creates.
The alcohol companies are many things, but they ain’t silly. When they see an opportunity they are like a ferret down a rabbit burrow.
Alcohol advertising is banned on television before 8.30 pm for the very good reason that children should not be exposed to it. But, inexplicably, sport is exempt from this law, so the alcohol companies use this loophole to penetrate the minds of children. The message they bring is that alcohol is a great part of our culture and you, too, one day, can partake of it.
They load up on advertising their products in sport, through the use of players as running, jumping and walking billboards, pop-up on-screen ads during play, stadium hoardings and convenient shots of players celebrating in victory, or commiserating in defeat, with a drink or two.
We saw this recently when State-of-Origin players in the opening game of 2013 had stubbies of beer thrust into their hands by team officials while the cameras were on them after the game. Alcohol might be considered a ‘no-no’ in an athlete’s post-match recovery period these days but on such a high-rating TV event the sponsor’s demands trump all else.
Researchers at the Cancer Council of Victoria and the University of Wollongong recently revealed that 20 per cent of AFL and NRL grand final TV broadcasts last year featured alcohol promotions in some shape or form.
The companies, of course, deny they are targeting children in order to guarantee their market share in 10 years time. And they plead that figures show their marketing and advertising doesn’t have the impact claimed.
If this is the case, the CEOs and all board members of all these companies should be sacked immediately for knowingly wasting money on ineffectual advertising. The world knows, as they do, that sports advertising is a critical factor in not just boosting sales today but also building their future markets among impressionable pre-teens and adolescents.
Last year the Federal Government gave major sports the chance to wean themselves off alcohol sponsorship in the same way they did with tobacco three decades ago. They offered an initial pot of $25 million, which sports could access to help them cure their addiction to the booze.
Sadly, the administrators of four of the nation’s major sports – the AFL, NRL, Australian Rugby Union and Cricket Australia refused to entertain the idea of a buy-out. Worse, the leader of the pack, the AFL, signed a 10-year contract with a brewery.
So much for social responsibility.
Photograph by Gin Soak