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Trouble in paradise

In a sobering indication of just how entrenched alcohol and junk food sponsorship is in Australian sport, the recent announcements by the WA Cricket Association (WACA) and the Perth Glory about dropping their unhealthy sponsors made prominent headlines – “WACA dumps booze, fast food” and “Perth Glory Lite – Soccer club dumps fast food sponsor for Healthway campaign.”

By contrast, the announcement a few years back that the WA Football Commission had renewed its multi-million dollar deal with Carlton United Breweries for 10 more years hardly raised an eyebrow.

It’s a clear indication that many Australians consider the association of alcohol with sport as normal.

This association isn’t accidental. Alcohol companies have poured millions into sport sponsorship in Australia (estimated at over $300 million per annum) to create and reinforce social norms where alcohol consumption is considered customary in a range of social settings, including sport.

The WACA and Perth Glory are only a couple of the many sport organisations in WA that have shunned alcohol promotion in favour of sponsorships with Healthway (the WA Health Promotion Foundation).

The most recent sponsorship with the WACA is Healthway’s largest in terms of the dollar value and there are very good reasons why Healthway has made this major investment over three years.

Firstly, Healthway is recognised as an agent for change in moving community thinking and action into a healthier direction for Western Australians. Challenging community norms and generating public debate about the issues that matter are critical to bringing about that change.

By helping to reduce the extent of alcohol sponsorship synonymous with some of our highest profile sports, Healthway actively seeks to challenge the community norm that sport and alcohol go hand in hand. The WACA’s decision to dump alcohol sponsorship in favour of the Alcohol.Think Again message caught the attention of the media and ignited public debate.

Secondly, Healthway’s sponsorship with the WACA will result in a significant reduction in alcohol marketing through cricket in WA. All alcohol promotions will be removed from the WACA’s elite teams, community competitions and corporate footprint.

Reducing exposure to alcohol promotions (especially those with a high degree of exposure to children and young adults) can only be a good thing and help reduce consumption, especially among young people who are interested in cricket. This aspect has come into sharper focus this year with research at The University of Western Australia showing that children cannot be quarantined from sponsors’ promotions in adult level and elite sport.

Thirdly, as each new sport makes the decision to dump alcohol sponsorship, public pressure intensifies on sport administrators who continue to allow their sport to be held captive by the alcohol industry. In 2010, dozens of sport organisations in Western Australia had alcohol sponsors. In just a few years, all but a few WA-based sport organisations have dropped agreements that included obligations to promote alcohol.

The icing on the cake with the WACA sponsorship is that Healthway also has the opportunity to promote Alcohol.Think Again, through the WACA’s elite teams, T20 Community Cup, district cricket competition and Indigenous cricket programs.

This extends the reach of an important public health campaign and underpins the message that alcohol and sport aren’t a good mix. The WACA will work with Cricket Australia aiming to eventually eliminate alcohol promotions from all international and national fixtures held in WA under the auspices of Cricket Australia.

Healthway sponsorship is often referred to in the same context as “bans” on alcohol sponsorship which misrepresents our approach. Healthway has no powers to regulate or ban the promotion of alcohol. Our focus is on using the public funds we invest in sponsorship to the best effect. We seek to partner organisations that support health promotion objectives and, like any other sponsor, Healthway requires conditions of sponsorship.

Pleasingly, the number of organisations seeking to partner Healthway continues to grow significantly each year and the pressure continues to grow on the remaining sports that continue to be used by alcohol companies to increase their profits.

David Malone

David Malone

David Malone is the Executive Director of Healthway, the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation. David joined Healthway in 2008 and shortly after turned his attention towards ensuring Healthway's sponsorship program focused on reducing the promotion of alcohol through sport and community events in WA. David is also the Chair of the International Network of Health Promotion Foundations and has worked in a mentoring role with a number of health promotion organisations throughout developing countries.

5 comments

  • WA’s public health organisations, in this case Healthway, have led the nation in progressive action to combat issues such as alcohol-related harm. The sponsorship deal with the WACA is another excellent move. Plainly alliances between the alcohol industry and Big Sport are mutually advantageous – otherwise why would there be such lucurative sponsorship deals in place. Healthway’s intervention on this ocassion is both symbolic in its impact and practical in removing alcohol promotion from places where children and young people are known to congregate. Well done.

  • We are fortunate to have an agency like Healthway here in WA which has the capacity to replace some of the alcohol sponsorship of sport, and show that there are healthy alternatives to unhealthy sponsors. Healthway’s recent high value, high impact agreement with the WACA fits well with the growing recognition among the community that sports popular with young people shouldn’t be a vehicle for the promotion of unhealthy products.

  • It’s pretty sad that alcohol and junk food are so closely associated with favorite pastimes. And it’s great that WACA and Perth Glory are taking steps to rid people of this misconception. But, unless many other associations join in, this is going to be an exception, rather than a norm.

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