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Fair-weather friends a folly for Aussie sport

When was the last time you heard a ‘friends with benefits’ story that ended in “happily ever after?”

You probably haven’t.

That’s because a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement is never an equal or respectful partnership. Add alcohol to the mix and it’s sure to fail.

But that’s exactly what professional sports’ arrangements with corporate sponsors are, from gambling to grog, the world over.

The Cricket Australia saga, drawn out across media headlines last week, is an exposé of many unpleasant truths, not least the flakey, disingenuous nature of the relationship between professional sport and big business.

Melodramatically labelled as the darkest day in Australian sport, the ball tampering “crisis” has left Cricket Australia clutching desperately at disenchanted sponsors, left, right and center, reinforcing the point that a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement is never a sure thing.

Earlier this week Mumbrella journalist Jason Rose wrote an article imploring sponsors like Magellan not to walk away from Cricket Australia.

The article rightly points out that sport is such a powerful drawcard for corporate sponsorship because it’s universally recognised in the marketing world that even a marginal association with such a much-loved pastime, for some exuberant sum, is worth it.

Cricket Australia knew this. That’s why it had the nerve pre-ball-tampering crisis to turn down a joint multi-million dollar broadcast deal from Nine Entertainment Co and Network Ten, going so far as to call Channel Ten ‘bottom feeders’.

This is not a sign of a healthy relationship or mutual respect between CA and its financial contributors – broadcasters or otherwise.

For any healthy, good relationship there must be mutual respect. But above all, both parties must be genuine.

While it’s true that any professional corporate relationship is one with benefits for either side, where CA and other Australian sporting codes continue to fall over is that they’re choosing the wrong brands to get into bed with.

Alcohol brands are notorious for dishing out misleading information on the health ‘benefits’ of booze, and for not explicitly informing consumers of the official guidelines designed to reduce the short and long term harm from alcohol consumption. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor Mark Petticrew in a recent article How alcohol industry organisations mislead the public about alcohol and cancer has been right onto this behaviour.

In their case, it’s evidence tampering as opposed to ball tampering, and with arguably a much more sinister intent and serious long-term effects.

Because the failure isn’t simply one of corporate governance, resulting in poor choices that reflect badly on Cricket Australia and our other major sporting codes.

It’s a failure that has real consequences for Australian children, who are exposed to thousands of hours of alcohol advertising as they watch their favourite sports.

The greater the exposure to the alcohol advertising the greater likelihood those children will commence drinking alcohol earlier and in greater quantities. The research evidence is clear. The alcohol advertising is literally driving children to drink and our major sporting codes including Cricket Australia, the alcohol industry and the government are all culpable.

In Rose’s piece, he argues that sponsors who walk from their CA deals have missed an opportunity to help rebuild the reputation of the sport.

I would argue that the loss of many of CA’s sponsors provides an opportunity for CA to bench the booze and other unhealthy sponsors, and that CA’s best hope of rebuilding the reputation of the sport lies in securing healthier more positive corporate sponsors.

Surely it makes greater sense for sporting codes – which require their athletes to be in top health and in peak performance – to partner with wholesome, healthy brands that promote a positive corporate set of ethics?

After all, are we not told to find partners who bring out the best in us?

Jemima Turner

Jemima Turner is a Communications Officer at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education with a background in lobbying and politics. She is passionate about advocating for the community in the fight to reduce alcohol harm.

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