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Canberra Cavalry underage drinking scandal

It would be all too easy to dismiss the Canberra Cavalry underage drinking scandal as just another in a long line of incidents involving Australian sportsmen behaving badly.

But that would be a mistake.

Just as it would be wrong for the Canberra Cavalry to shift blame, responsibility and punishment on to the senior and junior players involved.

The video made public early this week, which was filmed immediately following the Canberra Cavalry’s home loss to Brisbane on Saturday 27 January showed Cavalry players in uniform and on club grounds with a senior player actively and successfully encouraging underage youths to scull beer from a beer bong.

This was not adult players enjoying a quiet and well-deserved beer after a summer session of baseball, but rather, evidence of a dangerous and harmful alcohol culture at the Canberra club.

Was Canberra Cavalry management aware of the underage drinking and failed to act, or did it have no knowledge of the unacceptable behaviour its seniors were impressing upon junior players?

Was the club complicit or asleep at the wheel?

Neither is a great look for the club or indeed the league, which announced with great fanfare last week that the management group in question had successfully bid for the right to buy the Canberra Cavalry.

Nor is the fact that when approached by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) for a meeting to discuss the leaked video in April, the club and the Australian Baseball League were slow to respond, with Canberra Cavalry refusing to meet.

A position all the more puzzling in the wake of the Australia Baseball League’s negotiations last month to franchise its existing teams and expand its competition to New Zealand and Asia.

It’s difficult not to conclude that the Canberra Cavalry management are not much bothered by failing in its duty of care to protect its young players, or its shortcomings in addressing the issue in any meaningful manner.

Arrogance? Incompetence? It makes little difference.

Media reports state the Cavalry are in the process of seeking a naming rights sponsor. As reported last week, Cavalry management believes they are a ‘community club’, and aspire to establish a significant presence in Canberra’s summer sporting landscape.

It will need to get its house in order first.

Culture, of course, comes from the top down, and is the sum of more than its alcohol policy controls and enforcement.

The cases of beer delivered to players post-game speak to the way alcohol is endorsed and celebrated by the club.

But it shouldn’t be. Alcohol and sport don’t mix.

Alcohol harm in Australia is significant. Nearly 6,000 lives are lost every year and more than 157,000 people are hospitalised making alcohol one of our nation’s greatest preventative health challenges.

Evidence repeatedly shows that exposure to alcohol and alcohol ads is associated with young people drinking more and from an earlier age.

And that’s without literally ramming alcohol down kids throats, which is exactly what the shocking leaked video shows senior Cavalry players doing.

If there is a positive here, it is the opportunity for the Canberra Cavalry to tell Canberrans how it intends to conduct itself as a club going forward.

Canberra Cavalry General Manager Daniel Amodio told The Canberra Times that in finding a naming rights sponsor, “one of our biggest problems is we haven’t really cemented our brand position around Canberra yet”.

By changing its current trajectory, the club can become a sporting leader that puts the welfare of its players and fan base first.

To do that it must clean up its dangerous alcohol culture and sever its alcohol sponsorship ties.

Michael Thorn

Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

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