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ALCOHOL NEEDS SPORT MORE THAN SPORT NEEDS ALCOHOL

Last Saturday, the Daily Telegraph in partnership with Carlton United Breweries, Woolworths (BWS) and New South Wales Rugby League offered readers a free “limited edition” can of Victoria Bitter (VB) redesigned as a “Blues can”

In order to receive the free beer a consumer had to buy a copy of Saturday’s Daily Telegraph and redeem a coupon at a BWS store.

Giving away a can of VB recycled as “Blues beer” to coincide with the State of Origin match is a disgraceful gimmick by CUB to promote its product.  The VB can has been retouched to match the Blue colour of the NSW jersey. Lots of kids like to wear that jersey.

“Blues beer” exploits the League’s massive supporter base in NSW, including many children, and reinforces the blokey image of rugby league as a beer sodden sport.

It will do enormous damage to the code. Already Steve Ella, a Blues State of Origin legend has described the alcohol promotion as a severe setback for the sport. Ella wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that players are walking talking billboards for alcohol and he is disgusted by the saturation of alcohol advertising in sport. We agree with that, most Australians do.

To its credit the National Rugby League (NRL) has recognised it has an alcohol problem. Traditionally the sport promoted a boozy culture at the elite and grassroots levels where binge drinking before and after the game was normal. Before State of Origin matches players on both sides would binge in the name of ‘team bonding’.

Some steps have been made to change those practices. The Australian Drug Foundation has assisted NRL clubs with alcohol education, training, policy development designed to change its booze friendly culture and promote the health and wellbeing of players and supporters. But there is more to do — cultures don’t change overnight.

Having an alcohol sponsor doesn’t help, because sponsorships come with ropes attached, to tie the sport into a web of alcohol marketing. So it’s time Rugby League realised there are a lot of other sponsors out there and that alcohol needs sport more than sport needs alcohol.

This issue is even bigger than Rugby League, as every major sport is sponsored by alcohol. The truth is the alcohol industry is not really interested in sport – their interest is flogging booze; getting more people to drink more alcohol more often. They would sponsor bird-watching if it was popular and on television.

Which brings us to the absurd exemption for alcohol advertising during TV sport. What is the point of the Australian Communications Media Authority (AMCA) when it allows a fundamental rule – no alcohol advertising during children’s viewing hours—to be ignored when a sporting event is telecast? ACMA is not protecting our children, which is what it was set-up to do – it should be abolished.

Where has our commitment to social responsibility gone? Major sport has demonstrated it lacks integrity on this issue and only our politicians can change the playing field. Make this an election issue. Ban alcohol advertising in sport, full stop.