Here’s my Op Ed column today, published in the Daily Advertiser

by ray goodlass

Time to end alcohol sport advertising

At this time of year media coverage of cricket matches takes me back to my Yorkshire childhood, when the family radio was permanently tuned to the BBC’s ‘Light Program’ coverage of test matches and county cricket.

They were front page newspaper stories too, so there was no escaping them. All very similar to Australia today except for a very significant point, namely that today cricket and some other sports too are now bankrolled by advertising from alcoholic beverages.

This was brought home to me when I caught the ABC news coverage of a recent Australia v Pakistan test when the camera cut to a shot of the scoreboard, which was surrounded by ads for VB. So even if we are not watching on commercial television we are still bombarded by the ‘grog’ message.

It got me thinking about the impact of such adverting. Some research was called for.

A little under two years ago, a study by Cancer Council Victoria and the University of Wollongong found that viewers were exposed to more than 4600 incidents of alcohol promotion in just three one-day international cricket games, reported Toby Hall, CEO St Vincent’s Health Australia (SMH 28 December 2016)

These incidents included ads during commercial breaks, stadium signage, live announcements, broadcast sponsorship announcements, logos on players’ uniforms and team banners.

Such research shows that exposure to repeat high-level alcohol promotion teaches pro-drinking attitudes and increases the likelihood of adult heavy drinking and alcoholism. 

Team merchandise emblazoned with alcohol logos and imagery worn by non-drinking age children and adolescents also predicts both early initiation to alcohol use and binge drinking.

The alcohol industry targets sport because they know children watch it and unless new drinkers are recruited they go out of business.

As alcohol can’t be advertised on TV before 8.30pm there is though a loophole that provides Big Alcohol with a way around the ban: they can still advertise at sporting fixtures, a loophole they exploit to the hilt.

Cricket’s not even the main culprit when it comes to alcohol advertising and sport. Each year there are an estimated 3500 alcohol ads on free-to-air broadcasts of live AFL, NRL and cricket matches. Of the three sports, AFL is the guiltiest party, followed by cricket, then the NRL.

For the future adult lives of our children and young people, this has to stop. All it would take is the stroke of a pen to end all alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sporting broadcasts. Governments could easily and certainly should go further and prevent its appearance on all publicly-owned infrastructure (e.g. buses, shelters, sporting grounds).

The alcohol sponsorship of teams, clubs or sporting programs and the placement of alcohol brands, logos and slogans or imagery on any sporting merchandise must also be phased out.

It can be done. In 2012, the Gillard government gave major sports codes the chance to replace their alcohol sponsorship from a pool of $25 million.

Many sports, including swimming and soccer, took up the offer. But four of our most popular codes, AFL, NRL, rugby and cricket, declined.

All it would need would be for the government to put a similar dollar amount back on the table to encourage the four big codes to walk away from grog, as they would immediately cry poor if their alcohol funded revenue stream dried up.