Drink Tank

F1 Heineken deal is reckless stupidity

There is something quite addictive about the excitement, energy and glamour of the Australian Grand Prix for speed fans all over Australia and the world. And Melbourne is abuzz as host of the four-day Formula One, with the Victorian Government reportedly splashing out $60m upwards for the privilege of staging the season’s first spectacular line-up.

Economic benefits and incredible global exposure are high on the list of benefits promoted by organisers and proponents of this elite sporting event.

Chair of the Grand Prix Corporation, John Harnden, is quoted as saying the F1 is about ”strengthening Melbourne’s and Victoria’s liveability and civic pride, celebrating sporting achievement at the highest level, and providing aspiration and inspiration for Australian men, women and children”.

That quote, right there, is where my excitement flips to anger and frustration. If it is all about Australian children, women and men, then please explain the reckless stupidity of taking on a corporate sponsor whose product causes death, injury and dangerous driving.

Who in their right-thinking mind would give global beer brewer Heineken the privilege of spending $337 million to put their brand in front of children and young Australians and promote alcohol, driving and speed together with sporting success.

I am a trauma surgeon and representative of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), so I have a very strong stake in this issue, which I know, only too well, leads to fatal consequences.

Heineken’s celebration and promotion of alcohol and speed at one of Australia’s highest profile sporting events is simply unacceptable when alcohol is already involved in 30 per cent of fatal crashes in this country every year.

More than 1000 people died in vehicle crashes on Australian roads in 2017 and 36,000 others suffered injuries that required treatment in hospital.

My job is to attempt to save lives and repair the physical damage to people involved in alcohol-fuelled road crashes. I am also co-chair of the Australian National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, so I have no reservations saying that Heineken’s sponsorship of the F1 is deplorable.

It is beyond stupid for Heineken and Formula 1 to use an alcohol brand as a celebration of speed. Driving, drinking and speed too often result in people dying and suffering permanent disability and injuries.

Quite frankly, Heineken, Formula One and the Melbourne Grand Prix organisers should be condemned for their part in brokering, endorsing and permitting such a dangerous sponsorship.

A national inquiry in 2018 found that Australia’s road safety performance has stalled and that we must do more to reduce the enormous, unacceptable road toll.

So here we are, already losing ground on road safety. Lives are at stake. Knowing this, we cannot allow a corporate giant such as Heineken to put more lives as risk, simply in order to shift more cases of beer around the world.

Alcohol advertising has no place in any sport, and that is why the RACS endorses the campaignEnd Alcohol Advertising in Sport.

Alcohol advertising in any sport is a serious problem. Put simply, the evidence is crystal clear that the more children are exposed to alcohol advertising, the greater the risk that they will start drinking at an earlier age and drink in greater quantities, leading to a range of alcohol harms.

Alcohol advertising in motor sport is even more dangerous, because as well as targeting children and creating a completely false association between Heineken and sporting success, it links speed, driving and alcohol consumption, which, too often, results in death, disability and serious injury.

Tragically, more people will die on the roads over this Grand Prix weekend. It seems that in partnering with Formula 1, Heineken cares little for how it contributes to Australia’s road toll, as long as it translates to a spike in alcohol and product sales.

Drink Tank looks into global criticism of Heineken

Criticism of Heineken’s sponsorship of F1 comes as the brewing giant finds itself under increasing criticism for its behaviour on the international stage.

The recent English language publication of the book Heineken in Africa. A Multinational Unleashed by Dutch journalist Olivier van Beeman reveals how Heineken collaborated with dictators, authoritarian governments and an alleged war criminal; explains how it achieves tax avoidance; and reveals the company is tied to human rights violations and high level corruption.

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Chief Executive Michael Thorn says the publication reveals how badly a corporation will behave in pursuit of profits when unchecked by regulation.

He says, and I agree that Australians will literally die waiting for Heineken to do the right thing, and I join his call on Formula 1 to sever its ties with Big Alcohol.

John Crozier

Dr John Crozier is co-chair of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) Committee and Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Trauma Committee.

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