Much of the country is now engaged with football finals of various codes and as soon as that ends we will be plunged in to the Spring Racing Carnival, culminating in the Melbourne Cup, and then on to the cricket season. We like to think we are fun loving, healthy types, bursting with energy and vitality, yet there is a side to this sporting culture that we are careful not to talk about. Australia’s biggest sporting days are days of peak alcohol harm.
In 2010 researchers at Turning Point investigated the times when people need medical attention after drinking too much: simply put, these are cases of people who are so drunk they need emergency help. Data was obtained about presentations to ambulance staff, to emergency rooms, and admissions to hospitals. See here: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/search/sporting-events-drinking-cultures-and-social-occasions A peak occurred in the number of those conditions on the day before, and on the day of major sporting events over a range of sports including football, horse racing, motor racing and cricket.
Increased cases of assault occurred on the day before the AFL Grand Final, the Melbourne Cup and the F1 Grand Prix, and, as well, the peaked on the day of the AFL Grand Final, the Melbourne Cup, the Grand Prix and international cricket. Alcohol related car accidents also increased on AFL Grand Final Day and the Melbourne Cup.
This is an extraordinary pattern and it cannot be accidental. We should be asking why is drinking synonymous with Australia’s sporting contests, and why do so many people fail to control their drinking at these times? Much of this drinking, and much of the fallout, takes place in domestic homes as families and their friends gather at parties and barbecues to participate in the event via TV. Many of the people assaulted by out of control drinkers are family members or friends.
Somehow we have managed to overlook the mayhem generated by binge drinking on the days of our major sports events. Sporting bodies have failed to understand the intimate connection between their big day of the year and the personal and social toll extracted by people who celebrate the event by uncontrolled drinking.
Policymakers have failed to hold Big Alcohol accountable for promoting the idea that alcohol and sport are indivisible and refusing to abide by the rules that prohibit marketing alcohol to children.
While not forgetting the responsibility of sports administrators and alcohol advertisers, we all should consider what we can do this year to plan celebrations of these gala events that will not contribute to the sporting alcohol toll.
We at GrogWatch are keen to publish your ideas for great fun celebrations ahead of time so we can circulate them as widely as possible. Let us know how you’ve done it in the past or what you are thinking of this year.
Written by Geoff Munro