Alcohol advertising is currently banned at Saxton Field, but the rules could soon be eased. (Source: Local Democracy Reporting)

The rules around advertising alcohol at international cricket games at Nelson’s Saxton Oval are back up for debate. Cricket advocates fear tougher rules will risk losing future international games, while health experts say the evidence around the negative impact of alcohol advertising is undeniable.

The region’s two councils — Tasman and Nelson — are currently proposing to amend the Saxton Field management plan so alcohol sponsors can be advertised on players’ clothing and during international cricket games that have contractual commitments. A ban on alcohol advertising at the sportsground jeopardised three international cricket matches from taking place at the venue during the 2023-24 season because Asahi Beverages NZ were one of 12 sponsors.

The two councils eventually agreed to a temporary exemption after it was warned that New Zealand Cricket might withdraw the matches, despite the games having already been agreed to take place at Saxton Oval. Councillors heard arguments for and against the change during a hearing on Friday.

Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Andrew Galloway acknowledged the councils were in a “tough bind” but he urged them against “watering down” their advertising controls. “There is undeniable research evidence on the impact of alcohol advertising on health outcomes, particularly in sport,” he said. This was reinforced by Dr Rachel Eyre, a public health medicine specialist at Te Whatu Ora. “The local data shows that we have rising levels of alcohol-related hospitalisations at Nelson Hospital,” she said. “Young people who are more exposed to alcohol marketing are more likely to start drinking at a younger age and participate in hazardous drinking.”

However, cricket advocates were vocal in wanting to ensure international cricket games continued. Nelson Cricket Association chair Andy Leonard said the international matches had been a “resounding success” and that alcohol advertising shouldn’t prevent other future games. “Watching their sporting idols in action encourages participation in children and adolescents. Watching sport has proven to provide health and well-being benefits, and sporting events such as this create a positive sense of community,” he said. “The success achieved in attracting international fixtures should not be put at risk.”

Peter McCosker agreed. He took two children to one of the games and said they had a “great day” that hadn’t been negatively affected by the presence of alcohol advertising. “What we’re at risk here is losing a very positive experience for families and for kids.”

Deliberations would occur next week. The current proposal would encourage event organisers to consider reducing the amount of alcohol advertising at the international games.

If the changes were agreed to, it’s expected that when the Saxton Field management plan was next reviewed, the advertising of alcohol would have been phased out except for the price and product schedules at the point of sale.

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