Why is it that professional athletes are sponsored by alcohol companies? Simple, it’s the Australian culture of sports and how we are ‘entertained’. The typical Australian family will come together on a Friday or Saturday night, sit down with some junky snacks in those big plastic bowls, and Mum and Dad will have a beer or a glass of wine in hand. Across the country, the preference of sport varies, yet the consumption of alcohol among both consumers and athletes does not. Throughout the past two and a half years, a large majority of the Australian public and medical professionals have challenged the Australian Government to regulate all alcohol marketing and to eliminate alcohol sponsorship in professional sports. This strong relationship between high-profiled sports teams and individuals, and brewing companies cements the notion that mixing alcohol and sport is an intrinsic part of Australian culture, when in reality it’s damaging the future of the sport and young people.
The Australian community of sports hosts over 35,000 clubs across the nation attracting people of all ages to join and participate. Central to Australian mateship, sport has been a major part of our culture both in the past and present — and the drinking culture of the nation broadcasts a sense of dependence on alcohol to enjoy watching a game. In each code of sport and team, alcohol companies partner together with the sporting team to sponsor and advertise. As an example, in XXXX GOLD’s official statement about the relationship between Cricket Australian and the alcohol company, it is expressed that as part of their historic mantra, XXXX GOLD celebrates bringing community together, to “connect and socialise under the Australian sun”. And while claiming to have a relationship with DrinkWise Australia, XXXX GOLD continued to rally its popularity by releasing a specially brewed batch of 6.0% ABV (Alcohol by volume) beers for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018. In the public statement released, the company “aim[ed] to inspire the athletes to top the medal tally and help [the] Australians…bring home the GOLD”.
This lighthearted approach of encouraging and advertising drinking, is slowly and unfortunately impacting the lives of the professional and amateur sportsmen, and consumers across the nation. While the drinking culture of Australia has improved over the last ten years, government statistics show that 63% of Australians are now consuming a moderate amount of drinks, up from 48% in 2007. This behaviour is a reflection of the social behaviour that is now tolerated in today’s society and is excused as being part of the Australian culture.
Gaining a lot of media attention, sporting clubs have been rallying in defence of their teams alcohol sponsors, to discourage the push for government legislation. However, continually a topic of conversation, athletes are called to defend their after-match behaviours and are consequently held accountable for their lack of professionalism and poor judgement when out celebrating with their teammates. These boozy nights out ending in violence are often captured on CCTV and are broadcasted across the news, with court cases that generally follow. An example of how alcohol can distort one’s behaviour, was brought to the media’s attention when Brisbane Broncos player Matthew Lodge was the initiator of a fight in New York. Although this is an extreme example of alcohol and drug fuelled violence, his excessive drinking behaviour now reflects poorly on both his personal reputation and his teams reputation.
While it is commonly forgotten, alcohol is a drug and drinkers can easily form an addiction when consumption becomes habitual and regular. Unlike a stimulant, alcohol is a depressant drug and as a result the central nervous system including the brain, slowly begins to shut down when alcohol is consumed in excess resulting in intoxication. Unlike performance enhancing drugs (also known as “ergogenic” drugs), alcohol is a “ergolytic” drug that impairs performance functions and can be detrimental to performance when training and competing. For athletes it is important to understand both the short-term and long-term effects of binge and habitual drinking. The excessive consumption of alcohol can immediately lead to dehydration, however this is dependant on the beverages alcohol-concentration. Higher concentrated drinks include spirits or small-glassed drinks and full-strength beer and wine. Remembering that while under the influence of these drinks, excessive consumption leads to slower processing of fine motor skills and decision making, increasing the chance of injury, accident or brawls. While long-term effects include; weight gain, fatigue from disrupted sleep patterns, unusual heart rhythms (noticed during exercise) which then increases stress on vital organs and can lead to heart, cancer and liver disease. Yet, alcohol seems to be our answer for everything…you win, let’s have a drink and celebrate, you lose, let’s drown our sorrows in alcohol. An estimate of 5,500 people die each year due to alcohol. Familiar to enjoying a drink while watching the big sporting events of the season, I too like to cheer along my team in front of the television with a drink and enjoy the night. But there is a large difference between enjoying a drink or two for a major grand final match and having an uncontrollable drinking festival every weekend, regardless of win or lose results.
Heavily evolving over the past century, sport has allowed alcohol brands to immerse and infiltrate their products through encouraged consumption at sporting matches, both in elite and community clubs. Yet, alternative strategies for a ‘new game plan’ in sporting clubs are being strongly encouraged by local communities and medical professionals. The Australian Drug Foundation has partnered with Good Sports, to change the focus and mentality of alcohol use and abuse in local and professional sports clubs. This program highlights that the drinking culture in clubs, completely “contradicts the purpose of sport — that is, to promote healthy people and strong communities”. The report for this movement, relays alarming statistics that reflect the misuse of alcohol among clubs after matches. This program allows clubs of elite and community levels to monitor their drinking behaviour on match day, with over 5000 clubs across Australia already involved in the movement.
The nations comradery in sports, highlights the relationship of bringing the community together, whilst encouraging a happy and healthy lifestyle. Although a change in the lazy mindset of Australia’s drinking culture is not as easy as flicking a switch, the continual progression in alcohol education must be promoted by local communities and their sporting clubs across all leagues. Excessively misusing alcohol can significantly damage the future career of a hopeful sportsman and these short-term and long-term effects can have a serious impact on the rest of their life, both on the field and when retired. Consuming alcohol is a privilege, not a right…do NOT abuse that right!