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What would Richie Think?

The late, great Richie Benaud is highly regarded across the land and his legacy is fixed in Australia’s cricket and sport ethos for generations to come.

So what would the former Australian captain and iconic commentator make of the Cricket Australia crisis? It’s a question worth pondering given the status of Benaud as a hero and role model to young Australians.

FARE Director of Communications, Jeremy Henderson talks to another cricketing great – Test cricketer and former Chairman of Selectors John Inverarity – about the power of sporting role models and how players need to make a conscious decision about living up to the responsibility of the raising of young people in our society.

Young people have heroes, and John Inverarity had only one cricketing hero growing up.

“Richie Benaud was a great role model and I thought he conducted himself throughout his cricket career and beyond in an exemplary way. He was appreciated by cricket followers and people all around the world,” said Inverarity.

Richie Benaud was a true ‘force for good’, and it’s these qualities that Inverarity says players and their administrators have an opportunity to embrace and convey to young people.

“Iconic institutions like Cricket Australia have a wonderful opportunity, and, in fact, a moral obligation, to be very much to the fore in promoting all that’s best about decent and respectful behaviour, the essence of sportsmanship, and having their players being exemplars and admirable role models for the youngsters in our community during their very formative years,” said Inverarity.

So passionate is Inverarity about how young people are raised that teaching is closer to his heart than any sporting gongs achieved throughout his entire successful career.

“My greatest passion in life is education and playing a role in the raising of young people. I’ve always seen myself as an educator who has played a great deal of cricket, rather than a cricketer who’s been a teacher,” Inverarity said.

It’s also why he’s one of the avid Ambassadors leading the national End Alcohol Advertising in Sport campaign which was recently launched in Melbourne by an alliance of leading public health and community organisations from across Australia.

The campaign is one avenue for the community to proactively make a difference, one by one. It’s spearheaded by a strong line-up of sporting heroes who are on the right team when it comes to protecting our kids.

The Ethics Centre’s cricket review should be the tipping point for positive change across the entire sporting landscape. And the first target of the campaign is tackling the most sickening behaviour entrenched in professional sport which is enabling alcohol companies to prey on Aussie children through sponsorship advertising.

Australia’s three major codes, the NRL, and AFL, together with Cricket Australia account for the greatest volume and most highly visible alcohol advertising in sport. Alcohol companies take advantage of an exemption that allows them to show their alcohol advertising during children’s viewing hours.

The latest research from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education reveals that during the 2018 National Rugby League Grand Final, children were exposed to more than three instances of alcohol advertising every minute of the game.

Inverarity says alcohol and sporting excellence are no longer compatible and ending alcohol advertising should be a no-brainer.

“We have no greater responsibility than the raising of our children and providing them with appropriate values and the right habits with regard to their health. I’m taking a stand because it is inappropriate for alcohol to be linked with the athleticism of sport,” said Inverarity.

The campaign points out that there is a chasm between alcohol consumption and sporting performance. It is very much a false association, which is what advertising is – an attempt to associate a product with a particular virtue.

In the case of alcohol, as an elite athlete, you cannot go on a bender every night and still front up the next day and perform at the highest level. You just can’t do that. It’s a complete falsehood.

And there’s a hint of contempt in Inverarity’s comments as we discuss the billions of dollars that some of the major sports in this country are worth today, despite losing the sponsorship dollars of big tobacco.

“The sky didn’t fall in when tobacco sponsorship fell away. The same would be the case if alcohol sponsorship fell away,” said Inverarity.

The evidence is very clear. Children are continually exposed to alcohol advertising during TV fixtures, which encourages them to start drinking earlier, to binge drink more often, and to start down a bleak path toward alcohol harm.

And with nine out of 10 adults in support of ending alcohol advertising, it’s now time for regulators to put an end to the alcohol industry’s deliberate efforts to encourage systematic harm and abuse in its customers of tomorrow.

The End Alcohol Advertising in Sport campaign calls for the Free TV Code to be revised so that its original principled guidelines to protect children are not completely negated by the current sports exemption.

“Getting back to raising our children, one of the things we try and instil in our youngsters is to withstand peer group pressure and to be wary of the motives of some advertisers. It simply should not be that the sports sector plays a role in our children being persuaded into the early use of alcohol. It is not appropriate,” Inverarity said.

The cost of alcohol harm is too great to allow our codes to continue on “winning without counting the cost”.

Photograph: The Daily Telegraph

Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the Director of Communications at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

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