If you were looking for a good example of the uphill struggle to reduce alcohol harm in the face of a determined alcohol industry juggernaut consumed with selling ever more alcohol to ever more people, look no further than the downhill Olympic sport of Bobsleigh.
Last Friday during the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, the Jamaican women’s bobsled team found itself sledless when the team’s driver/coach Sandra Kiriasis, packed up the team sled and went home.
Here apparently was a marketing opportunity too good to pass, if not also the makings of a sequel to the 1993 John Candy classic Cool Runnings.
Red Stripe, a beer brewed in Jamaica by Desnoes & Geddes, a company now owned by Dutch brewing giant Heineken, stepped forward to gift the team a sled.
A shrewd move by the world’s second largest brewery. With a market cap of over US 60 billion dollars, Heineken is a corporate behemoth so large it could buy every competitor at the Games their very own bobsled from petty cash, and not make a ripple on its balance sheet.
And this is what the alcohol industry does at every opportunity.
It attempts to align and associate alcohol with sporting glory, athletic performance and superiority, winning and success.
Of course, it’s all a giant lie.
Far from performance-enhancing, alcohol consumption is performance-crippling, a destroyer of sporting careers and definitely not the elixir of champions.
Yes there are athletes today that still drink to excess, but these individuals, when they hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, serve as cautionary tales; they are sporting failures, athletes felled far outside the winners circle.
The alcohol industry’s success in aligning its product with sport is not simply wrong footed. It’s harmful to children.
The evidence makes clear what happens when the alcohol industry exposes children to alcohol advertising. It increases the likelihood that they will commence drinking earlier and drink more. And it’s for that reason that alcohol advertising and promotion has no place in sports marketed to and enjoyed by kids.
All of which makes last week’s announcement by Commonwealth Games Minister, Kate Jones all the more disappointing.
The government’s role is to regulate the supply of alcohol, not market it, but that’s precisely what Kate Jones did last week, endorsing the launch of a series of commemorative beer cans to mark the up-coming Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April.
FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn has condemned the promotion for attempting to associate XXXX beer with the Commonwealth Games, and was scathing in his criticism of the Commonwealth Games Minister.
“Frankly, it’s disgraceful that the Minister for the Commonwealth Games, Kate Jones has taken on the role of XXXX Head of Marketing and is out there flogging beer ahead of what is being positioned and marketed as the family friendly Games. She’s done everything but dress up in a giant XXXX can.”
On Friday 16 February FARE lodged a Right of Information request with the Department of Innovation, Tourism Industry Development and the Commonwealth Games to determine exactly how Lion shaped and dictated the government’s support and exactly how and why the Minister’s office so willingly acquiesced.
“Kate Jones released her media statement on 14 February so perhaps that’s why it reads like a love letter to XXXX Gold. In truth it would appear that Lion have in fact had a very heavy hand in drafting the statement and shaping the partnership; a level of influence and involvement that is entirely inappropriate,” Mr Thorn said.
At a time when Aussie kids are already being exposed to harmful alcohol advertising and promotion in sport, Lion’s attempt to market beer as a precious Commonwealth Games souvenir is reckless and entirely self-serving.
Our governments should be holding the alcohol industry to account on this issue, and certainly not serving as their partner in crime.
Alcohol advertising and promotion has no place in sport. Ultimately, it’s the children exposed to alcohol advertising that pay a heavy price for a XXXX can promotion and a ‘free’ bobsled.