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Mick Malthouse speaks out

Successful AFL premiership coach, Mick Malthouse, has been around football clubs long enough to know that unrestricted alcohol advertising in sport is a problem.

That’s why, at the beginning of a new AFL and NRL season that is once again heavily funded by the alcohol industry, Malthouse has leant his name to a campaign to end alcohol advertising during children’s television viewing hours.

“I don’t want my grandchild at 10 when he’s watching the football, subconsciously absorbing  all this stuff and think it’s normal,’’ he says.

His remarks coincide with the release earlier this month of a study by the Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) that revealed the extent of alcohol industry advertising partnerships with AFL and NRL Teams in  2019. In the AFL, the Western Bulldogs is alone among clubs who have not accepted alcohol sponsorship. Among AFL teams Geelong tops the ‘ladder’ with three major advertising deals followed by the West Coast Eagles with two. In the NRL North Queensland Cowboys are recipients of significant alcohol industry dollars followed by the New Zealand Warriors.

Malthouse understands alcohol advertising in sport is a tricky area for professional sporting teams that draw support from the alcohol industry, but these commercial partnerships don’t absolve clubs and advertisers from their responsibilities to the community.

Something like 50 percent of all alcohol advertising on television coincides with children’s viewing hours up to 8.30pm in the evenings.

Malthouse’s verdict on this state of affairs is that kids are “pounded’’ with alcohol advertising from an early age. “There’s beer, beer, wine, wine, alcohol, alcohol,’’ he says.

“I’m a father and a grand-father, I want to see my kids have a choice. I don’t want to see it rammed down their throats,’’ he adds.

Malthouse, whose successful premiership coaching career included stints at the Western Bulldogs, West Coast Eagles, and Collingwood, has strong views about player responsibility to be role models for younger people.

He is dismayed by recent examples of alcohol-fueled incidents involving AFL and NRL players who resist the idea their special status as sporting heroes confers on them responsibilities that go beyond the playing arena.

“Unfortunately, to some players who might think that they can get through life as a superhero and not be looked at, I’ve got one message for you, kids will emulate your style and what you are,’’ he says.

“I’ve had plenty of footballers say, ‘I don’t want to be a role model’. Well, the simple fact is you are.’’

Unlike the AFL whose players do not wear alcohol industry-branded kit, Cowboys and Warriors players in the NRL wear alcohol logos. In the wildly popular State of Origin both the New South Wales and Queensland teams will this year be sporting Lion products logos on their playing kit – Toohey’s in the case of NSW and XXXX for Queensland.

This has prompted Rob Moodie, former chairman of Melbourne Storm and a health professional himself, to brand rugby league stars as the “ambassadors of booze.’’

The FARE report also found that four alcohol industry behemoths dominate alcohol sponsorship for AFL and NRL teams. These are the Belgium-owned Carlton and United Breweries; the UK-owned Diageo; Asahi Holdings of Japan; and Lion owned by Kirin of Japan.

Malthouse understands it is difficult to measure the impact on children of repeated exposure to alcohol advertising during sporting events, but he has no doubt that repetition has an effect.

“There is a genuine impact,’’ he says. “Kids, like my grandchildren now talk about certain things that are on TV that they’re allowed to watch.’’

Survey results of the impact of alcohol advertising on impressionable young people leaves no other conclusion than that alcohol advertising is effective.

The more alcohol advertising young people are exposed to, the earlier they will begin, and the more they will consume if they already drink.

Former St Kilda President Rob Butterss, one of a group of leading sports personalities to endorse FARE’s End Alcohol Advertising in Sport campaign, says the Western Bulldogs deserve credit for being the only AFL club free of alcohol advertising.

“As an ambassador for the national campaign to End Alcohol Advertising in Sport, I congratulate the ‘doggies’ for being the only club to resist the temptation of accepting money from the alcohol industry,’’ Butterss says.

“It just goes to show that alcohol advertising deals are not a pre-requisite for success or popularity.’’

Butters observes that since the AFL clubs have, collectively, gathered more than one millions members this should provide a stable base to begin the process of severing ties with the alcohol industry.

The pervasiveness of alcohol advertising in the AFL and NRL is underscored by the frequency of alcohol advertising during major events.

Using frequency analysis applied in UK professional football and in Australian codes, a 2018 study found there were 121 occurrences of alcohol marketing, including field advertising and commercial break advertising, during the AFL grand final. This amounted to 0.7 occurrences a minute.

In the NRL, saturation alcohol advertising was even more pronounced, with 3.3 occurrences a minute during children’s viewing hours.

Mick Malthouse regards this unacceptable. “We’ve got a duty to uphold a certain standard,’’ he says.

Tony Walker

Tony Walker is the Global Perspective columnist for The Conversation, a Fairfax columnist, a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University and FARE Director. He is a former International Editor for the Australian Financial Review (AFR), Political Editor for the AFR and the Washington Correspondent. He has worked variously for the ABC, The Age and the Financial Times of London. His work as a correspondent covered postings in Beijing, the Middle East and North America. He is a dual Walkley Award winner for commentary.

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