Game Changer, a campaign tackling unhealthy advertising shifted up a gear on the weekend with the formal announcement of its newest Ambassador, former Australian Rally Champion Razvan Vlad.
Fresh off a strong showing in the latest round of the Western Australia Rally Championship, Razvan, the 2011 2WD Australian Rally Champion told Drink Tank how he hopes his involvement with Game Changer will make people more aware of the way alcohol and fast food are marketed to them through sport.
Razvan Vlad was only four years old when Walter Röhrl, driving an Ascona 400 for the cigarette sponsored Rothmans Opal Team, won his second World Rally Championship in 1982.
Considered by many to be the world’s greatest rally driver, Walter Röhrl won the Monte Carlo Rally four times with four different marques, was the first driver to complete the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in less than 11 minutes, and was dubbed ‘Genius on Wheels’ by Formula One Champion Niki Lauda.
But it was Röhrl’s attitudes as much as his driving ability that made a lasting impression on a young Razvan Vlad growing up in Romania.
It was no secret that tobacco sponsorship sat uncomfortably with Röhrl. Shortly after winning the 1982 title, Röhrl was sacked from Rothmans Opal. While the official reason given for his sacking was Röhrl’s reluctance to compete in the RAC Rally, the previous evening, Röhrl, had refused (not for the first time), to attend a Rothman’s publicity event, this particular event being held to highlight the Rothmans Opal Team’s success in winning the World, European and British titles in 1982.
For the time, Röhrl’s views on tobacco were fairly progressive. Now three decades on, former Australian rally champion, Razvan is following in the footsteps of his childhood hero and adding his voice to a grass-roots campaign that aims to turn the heat up on Australia’s sporting codes.
“I have always been fascinated by advertising and the power it has over people. It is simply wrong that Aussie children are being targeted and exposed to harmful products through the promotion of alcohol and fast food in sport,” Razvan said.
Razvan Vlad’s MAXYRally Team officially launched the Game Changer campaign in West Australia over the weekend, unveiling their new ‘Game Changer’ livery at the Lewana Stages Rally, Round 4 of Western Australia Rally Championship, near Balingup on Saturday, 27 July.
It was a successful outing for Game Changer and the MaxyRally team with Razvan maintaining his lead in the competition with a 2nd place finish in difficult slippery conditions.
Razvan’s rallying career commenced 17 years ago, as soon as he could get a license, and in a car borrowed from his mother. Moving to Australia to advance his rallying career paid immediate dividends, winning the 2010 2WD WA Rally Championship, and the 2WD Australian Rally Championship the following year.
For Razvan, rallying and supporting the Game Changer campaign is a family affair.
Joining Razvan in championing Game Changer is his wife, team doctor and navigator on tarmac rallies, Ioana. As an emergency department doctor at Perth’s Charles Gairdner Hospital, Ioana witnesses and deals with the consequences of alcohol abuse every day.
“Alcohol clouds consciousness, and when drunk, people will do things they regret for the rest of their lives. Whenever there is a major sporting event close to a hospital, we unfortunately see lots of alcohol-related injuries. Sports should be encouraging the adoption of healthy lifestyles, but the aggressive promotion of alcohol seems to result, not in people taking up sport, but instead, alcohol fuelled violence with lifetime consequences.” Ms Vlad said.
Razvan’s navigator on gravel rallies, 18-year old Daymon Nicoli, first called pacenotes for the team when he was only 16 and is the youngest winner of a national rally championship trophy.
“Drinking is popular with many people of my age and it is promoted as something socially acceptable and something that is looked at as part of being young. Alcohol is marketed through sports, promoting the image that the two go well together. This is not true, alcohol and performance in sports do not mix, and rallying is no different.”
Razvan says his support of Game Changer has been well received by his fellow competitors and WA Rally administrators.
“The WA Rally panel has always been very good at promoting healthy alternatives. One of the main sponsors of rallying in WA is QUIT. With Game Changer, I hope we can make people more aware of how alcohol and fast food is marketed to them. Everybody will make a choice at the end of the day but it should be an informed choice and not the result of clever marketing strategies”, Mr Vlad said.
Grassroots campaigner and founder of Game Changer Aaron Schultz, is excited to see his campaign spread to the West Coast.
“I am really pleased to see the Game Changer campaign resonating with so many Australians throughout the country. So many parents are concerned about the promotion of alcohol, fast food and gambling in sport. Game Changer gives those people a chance to be heard, and a chance to join a growing movement. As a Game Changer Ambassador, Razvan will get the Game Changer message out to even more Australians and let them know they are not alone in their concerns,” Mr Schultz said.
If you’d like to find out how you can support Game Changer visit www.gamechanger.org.au
Photo: © Brian Percival, MPB Photos