The Sydney Morning Herald
By Rebecca Ivers and Debbie Scott
30 September 2018
The grand final weekend is on us. The delights of elite level sport competing at the highest level, men and women showcasing their skills on the footy field, and the passion and pain for the winners and losers.
And, the injuries. Not just the injuries on the sporting field but the injuries on the roads, in homes, outside clubs. The injuries due to inebriated men beating others up when their teams lose. The injuries due to people losing their inhibitions and going too far.
Research published this year shows family violence assaults are 40 per cent higher, and non-domestic violence rises 70 per cent on State of Origin game nights.
We know that we can reduce alcohol-related harm by reducing alcohol availability and accessibility, regulating the marketing of alcohol, improving community understanding of the harms associated with alcohol and restricting the marketing and promotion of alcohol – especially to young people.
But during footy final season, we allow “big alcohol” a free pass. Despite severe restrictions on alcohol advertising on TV, during sporting games this is relaxed.
Why? Arguably drinking while watching sport is a national pastime, and interfering with this will change the nature of our culture. Despite evidence that domestic violence rates go up during State of Origin, the strong links between alcohol and violence, and evidence that young people exposed to alcohol marketing are likely to start drinking at a younger age, footy season sends our brains to mush.
It is not possible to watch live broadcasts of the footy, whether your code of choice is NRL or AFL, without being blasted with alcohol advertising. Big alcohol uses placement of billboards, free merchandise, brand advocates, product placement, branded merchandise and naming rights to market their products. Alcohol contributes significant income to professional sport code funding.
This sponsorship has a twofold impact: it promotes the product; and gives the illusion that big alcohol is promoting a healthy, sports-oriented lifestyle and so, is a good corporate citizen.
Sponsorship of sporting clubs and sporting codes by alcohol companies must come to an end. We understand the advertisers who see great advantages in accessing the large audiences finals weekends bring, however, we need to make sure our kids do not link sport and grog – they don’t mix.
Research tells us that young people who are exposed to alcohol advertising, particularly merchandising, are more likely to drink at an earlier age, and drink more when they do drink.
Drinking at an early age has strong links to significant harms like injury, mental health-related problems in the short-term, and increases the risk of chronic illness, cancer, mental health problems and substance use disorders in adulthood.
Big alcohol is the new ‘big tobacco’ – despite irrevocable evidence of harm it continues to market its products and deny the association with harm.
The links between alcohol and violence are pretty clear. WHO reported this week that alcohol is responsible for 5 per cent of the global disease burden, with more than 3 million people dying due to alcohol each year. Most of these deaths occur in men, and 28 per cent of the burden is due to injury, mostly road injury, self harm and interpersonal violence.
For the most part, in Australia we have strong regulatory frameworks to manage alcohol, and the community is strongly accepting of effective approaches such as random breath testing of drivers.
Alcohol advertising and sponsorship is based on legislation and industry self-regulation, and the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) is intended to restrict inappropriate advertising.
But self regulation is clearly not working – it’s time for government to step up and regulate this industry, and for sporting codes to play their part.
We can no longer turn a blind eye to the disregard of community wellbeing being perpetrated by the alcohol industry for profit.
Professor Rebecca Ivers is head of school, public health and community medicine at UNSW and Doctor Debbie Scott is senior research fellow at Monash University.