Jun 18, 2013

How sport has sold its soul and players to the alcohol industry

The unholy alliance of the alcohol and sporting industries is doing serious harm to the community, warns Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

The unholy alliance of the alcohol and sporting industries is doing serious harm to the community, warns Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University He asks: How can we take seriously expressions of concern about alcohol from sporting authorities such as Cricket Australia, NRL and AFL while they sell their souls and players to alcohol promotion? *** Shining a spotlight on the hypocrisy of sporting organisations that are in bed with Big Alcohol Mike Daube writes: Australian batsman David Warner recently attacked an English cricketer in a Birmingham bar. Cricket Australia fined him $11,500 and suspended him from playing (though not from other team activities) until the first Test in less than a month. Fines of this nature would be challenging for most of us, but may be less of a problem for a cricketer whose contracts have led to reports of him as a “$3 million man”. North Queensland and New South Wales Rugby League prop James Tamou was arrested for drink-driving and driving without a license. The NRL banned him for two games and reportedly fined him $20,000. It may be assumed that State of Origin stars are also well remunerated. Warner’s punishment – following recent late night Twitter abuse for which he was fined – is barely more than a slap on the wrist. As Wayne Smith points out in the Australian, “many critics were expecting that Warner would have been sent home”; and “his punishment does seem mild” in comparison with those handed out by Cricket Australia to other players for offences such as failing to complete their homework on time. Tamou’s agent reportedly believes that the punishment is “pretty harsh”, and may seek to have it reduced, despite reports that he was not only drink driving and unlicensed, but had three passengers in the car. While sporting stars such as Warner and Tamou may live in a parallel universe, where assaults and drink driving while unlicensed are likely to occur, surely we can expect more from our sporting authorities. In fairness to Warner and Tamou, they are young men, and they are not alone. Barely a week seems to go by without reports of often highly paid professional sports stars involved in some alcohol-related misdemeanour. This must be enormously frustrating to the many sportsmen and women who recognise that while sporting success brings rewards, these are accompanied by responsibilities to the community. Many of those who behave responsibly would no doubt also like to be seen as role models and maybe even to speak out about alcohol promotion – but are required by their contracts and career aspirations to be mobile billboards for alcohol. Sporting authorities don’t like bad publicity – but they also want to see their stars on the field, and scoring runs and tries. The standard approach after any misdemeanour appears to be a statement of concern, an expression of regret by all concerned, a modest penalty, perhaps a missed game or two, or an assurance that the offender will do some hours of “community service”. By contrast, when AFL star Kurt Tippett breached the rules around drafts and salary caps, he was suspended from participating in the pre-season competition, banned for 11 AFL games (with a further 11 games suspended ban), and fined $50,000. Breaching salary cap rules seems to be a far more serious offence than assaults or drink-driving without a license. Sporting authorities, whether in cricket, rugby or AFL, are saturated with alcohol sponsorship, and their events provide further opportunities for promotion of assorted beers, wines and spirits. They talk the language of responsibility but are riddled with conflicts. The AFL – no stranger to alcohol-related problems – promotes Carlton Draught (a “Major Partner”), with wine giant Treasury Wine Estates as a further “Official Partner”. The State of Origin series in which Tamou will miss a game is not just NSW against Queensland. It is VB versus XXXX beer. In 2006 Australian star all-rounder Andrew Symonds was denied the Alan Border Medal because he had turned up drunk for a game – but still won the 2005-6 VB Player of the Series award. In 2009, when the same player was sent home from England because of alcohol-related misdemeanours, Australian captain Ricky Ponting wore a VB cap to the press conference. The Australian cricket team is even now sponsored by VB, its players festooned with VB logos to the extent that most TV shots and press photographs of Warner accompanying stories about his misdemeanours showed him (and other players) wearing VB promotional clothing. Meantime, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland both publicly attacks his own player and blames the rest of the team, apparently overlooking the role of Cricket Australia in supporting alcohol promotion. Alcohol promotion through sports sponsorship clearly both targets young people and reaches them. Small wonder, when in the words of CUB’s Sales Director late last year, “I think the first thing is we need to find ways to work harder to make people drink more and drink at higher value...”. How can we take seriously expressions of concern about alcohol from sporting authorities such as Cricket Australia, NRL and AFL while they continue to expose children, young people and vulnerable communities to alcohol promotion that associates their sporting idols with the product? Their expressions of concern are even less convincing when the punishments for serious misdemeanours seem so modest. Australian sports pockets millions of dollars from alcohol companies knowing that the purpose is to sell as much of the product as possible. They send players out to play, practise and participate in media events as beer billboards. Cricket Australia’s website coverage of the recent events “Warner sorry, ready to move on” showed him with a VB logo front and centre. Their web page offering “Youth Apparel” (“Buy any youth apparel item and get a FREE Asics youth ODI home cap”) displays a VB logo. The “Aussie cricket crew” page – “a website for any and all young cricket fans” – shows more beer logos. There is an amazing hypocrisy about a sporting organisation that sells its soul and players to alcohol promotion, then publicly lambasts its players when they go out drinking. The biggest losers are the Australian community, which is exposed to double standards, and our children and young people who remain massively exposed to alcohol promotion at their favourite sporting events. The biggest winners are VB whose brand and logo have received more exposure than they could have expected in their wildest dreams. • Mike Daube is Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University and Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute and the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth.

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4 thoughts on “How sport has sold its soul and players to the alcohol industry

  1. Margo

    That link (if it doesn’t appear) was to an article in The Conversation by K O’Brien, ‘‘As a matter of fact, I’ve got it now’: alcohol advertising and sport’, 27 Feb. 2013.

  2. Margo

    I support everything Mike says. Alcohol sponsorship of motor sport also seems a particularly inappropriate fit. The issue of alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sport in Australia was the subject of this brief review:

  3. Mike Daube

    Thanks: always appreciate thoughtful comments.

    There is a deal of evidence on the impacts of alcohol promotion, on young people and on others. I don’t think I have suggested that sports stars need be card-carrying teetotallers – that would be decidedly hypocritical, given that I’m not one myself! But I do think the sporting authorities are failing in their responsibility to their players and the community. Meantime, the VB brand (which, far from being an Australian icon, is owned by the UK-based SAB Miller company, which in this wonderfully complex world is nearly 30% owned by the Altria/Philip Morris tobacco group, which used to offer up all the same arguments in defence of tobacco sponsorship) is the big winner.

  4. Philip Darbyshire

    Lots to think about here Mike. I’m wondering though if you confuse or conflate advertising alcohol with promoting drunkenness? Surely not the same thing. There is no reason why a sports star should have to be a card-carrying teetotaller to take part in their sport. It is surely more than reasonable for the coaches and clubs to make it clear that drinking the night before the big game, getting rat-arsed and attacking women or brawling drunk in a night club are completely unacceptable. ‘Blaming the drink’ for those antics doesn’t wash at all. No more so than them saying “The adverts made me do it”.

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