GrogWatch - Top Story - 26 Feb 2013

Caught in the sportlight

Everyone’s been talking about drugs in sport. There has been a huge amount of coverage (much of it a bit confused) in the media lately about the use of performance enhancing drugs (both banned and not banned), the misuse of prescription drugs and illegal drugs such as amphetamines and cannabis.

But let’s also make sure we talk about the other drug we already know to be a problem in sport. It causes the community huge amounts of preventable harm and costs taxpayers an estimated $15.3 billion every year in crime and violence, medical treatment, loss of productivity and death. It’s alcohol.

Professional sportspeople, whether they like it or not, are roles models for the community. They have a responsibility to lead by example and show that winning is something you achieve by working hard, not by cheating with drugs which risk your health and career.

As role models, sportspeople’s behaviour, including the way they use (or misuse) alcohol is in the spotlight. Positive campaigns to reduce binge drinking in young people featuring some of our best athletes are being undermined by reports of some other sports stars doing exactly that.

Reports of risky drinking by some within the Australian Swim Team in the lead-up to the London Olympics are just the latest examples of a culture of alcohol misuse which appears to exist in many of our elite sporting teams, across nearly all codes of sport.

Sport has long been an important part of Australian culture, but for far too long many have accepted the dangerous levels of drinking that has gone hand-in-hand in all levels of sport.

A national survey of community sports clubs conducted for the Good Sports program found:

  • one in five club members consume seven or more drinks in a night,
  • 45% of men and 41% of women aged 18-30 drink at levels known to harm long-term health,
  • 27% of club members aged 18-30 are driving home after five or more drinks.

As a community we need to keep working to change our relationship with alcohol – to one where getting drunk is not essential to having a good time. We are part of a culture which uses alcohol to celebrate, to commiserate, to socialise and to forget. In the context of sport, it’s helpful to remember that alcohol is a performance impairing drug.

Whether we are elite athletes, parents, community sports players or spectators; we all have a role to play in creating an Australian culture that supports people to live healthy, safe and satisfying lives, unaffected by drug and alcohol problems. Everyone is watching; let’s make sure our kids inherit a healthier attitude.

With an election looming it is important politicians know the role governments also need to play in this important journey. But perhaps that’s a post for another day.