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Cricket has a dangerous relationship with alcohol

If you spent any time watching TV during the Australian summers of the late ’70s or early ’80s, chances are the Tooheys beer “How do ya feel?” cricket ads are seared on your memory.

Gather a group of 40-50 year olds who were children during that period and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t remember the ad or can’t join in with the jingle’s “I feel like a Tooheys or two” chorus.

This was only one TV ad – updated to include new players over different seasons – but it became a strong cultural touchstone for a lot of people of a certain age.

Fast forward to the present day and our attitude to alcohol is starting to change, although its level of involvement with cricket has grown.

This included ads during commercial breaks, stadium signage, live announcements, broadcast sponsorship announcements, logos on players’ uniforms and team banners.

During one T20 game, one in every four ads shown was for an alcohol product or retailer.

Do we honestly think that such saturation advertising and promotion won’t affect children who are so relentlessly exposed?

All the evidence says it will.

International and national research has shown that exposure to repeat high-level alcohol promotion teaches pro-drinking attitudes and increases the likelihood of heavier drinking.

The owning of team merchandise emblazoned with alcohol logos and imagery by non-drinking children and adolescents also predicts both early initiation to alcohol use and binge drinking.

The long-term repercussions are clear: 15 Australians die from alcohol-related deaths every day, and 430 are hospitalised, making alcohol second only to tobacco as our leading preventable cause of death and hospitalisation.

The alcohol industry targets sport because they know children watch it and because unless new drinkers are recruited they go out of business.

Normally alcohol can’t be advertised on TV before 8.30pm in Australia, but shockingly there’s a loophole that provides Big Alcohol with a “work around” when it comes to sport.

Alcohol advertising and branding of elite sport reinforces for children that alcohol and sport go hand-in-hand, and that’s wrong.

Children should be able to watch the national cricket team without having alcohol figuratively poured down their throats.

And cricket’s not even the main culprit when it comes to alcohol advertising and sport.

Each year there are an estimated 3,500 alcohol ads on free-to-air broadcasts of live AFL, NRL and cricket matches, representing 60 per cent of all TV alcohol advertising in sport for the year.

Of the three sports, AFL is the guiltiest party, followed by cricket, then the NRL.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians estimates that Australian children, under 18 years, are exposed to a cumulative total of 50 million alcohol advertisements each year. As a result, three-quarters of Australian children, aged 5-12, can match at least one sport with its main alcohol sponsor.

For our children’s sake, this has to stop.

It would take the stroke of a pen to end all alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sporting broadcasts. Governments should go further and prevent its appearance on all publicly-owned infrastructure (eg: buses, shelters, sporting grounds).

The alcohol sponsorship of teams, clubs or sporting programs and the placement of alcohol brands, logos and slogans or imagery on any sporting merchandise must also be phased out.

And an independent panel should monitor clear and consistent standards in relation to all forms of alcohol advertising and promotion – including online and social media – with penalties for breaches.

I’d also like to see the federal government take another swing at weaning our big four sporting codes off the almighty alcohol dollar.

In 2012, the Gillard government gave major sports codes the chance to replace their alcohol sponsorship from a pool of $25 million.

Many sports, including swimming and football, took up the offer. But four of our most followed codes – AFL, NRL, rugby and cricket – declined.

The government should put a similar sum back on the table to see if it can encourage the four big codes to walk away from grog.

I know what the response will be from some quarters to this piece. The more printable will accuse me of being a nanny state do-gooder, hell-bent on stopping people enjoying themselves.

I recognise alcohol’s deep cultural significance in Australia. Alcohol will always have a place in our celebrations and social activities.

But where it doesn’t have a place is in on our TVs in our living rooms, where parents are powerless to protect their children from an assault of alcohol content simply because they’re enjoying our national summer pastime.

This post was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 27 December 2016. Photo: Scott Barbour – CA

Sick of sport being soaked with alcohol ads? Find out more about FARE’s Booze Free Sport campaign.

Toby Hall

Toby was appointed Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of St Vincent's Health Australia, Australia's second largest healthcare provider, in April 2014.

Prior to this, he was the CEO of Mission Australia, COO of World Vision Australia, and CEO of South Taranaki District Council. Toby is passionate about helping people "be the best they can be" and is a qualified accountant with an MBA. Toby has also held directorships of ASX listed Sterihealth, Working Links, and Goodstart, and has been a member of a number of government committees and advisory panels.

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