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COMMENT

11/1/2010
Fiona Davies’s research paper on the impact of sports sponsorship on underage drinking has thrown the debate on alcohol sponsorship into further confusion.

Davies’s findings are quite clear. Alcohol sponsorship might have a small impact on underage drinking, but that is nothing as compared to the impact that sport itself has.

For young men in particular, sport is a social occasion associated with alcohol. Whether it be after participation, or while viewing on television, alcohol is often drunk as a part of the sporting culture.

To suggest that sponsorship plays a significant role in such activity is misleading and the much called-for alcohol sponsorship ban would merely delay addressing the real issues.

There is an argument to say that allowing such sponsorship does in some way endorse alcohol. But the impact is clearly negligible. Those critics don’t appear to be addressing the bigger issue of sport’s role in the growing problem of alcohol abuse.

Even here the anti-alcohol lobby seems to be aiming at the wrong target. There is frequent blame aimed at football stars caught drunk at three in the morning. The media, an institution which itself is no stranger to the inside of a bar, has long-since sought to demand that young, often under-educated, men with bucketloads of money should become abstemious role models. It isn’t going to happen and even if it did, how much impact would it have? Drinking culture is much closer to home. Young people in particular are much more influenced by their immediate environment, by what their peers do and by what options they have to fill their leisure hours. 

This site, although a part of the sponsorship industry, has never been afraid to challenge what we believe is wrong. In the debate regarding tobacco sponsorship, we came down firmly against it on the grounds that it was morally wrong to give credibility to a lethal and highly addictive product.

But alcohol is different. First, the majority of people who drink alcohol do so in a safe and responsible manner and it adds to their enjoyment of life. As such, alcohol is not a product that we believe should be branded ‘bad’. That is far too simplistic an argument and as with some of the ill-informed reporting about drugs, young people will see through it in seconds. Rather, there should be a lot more education about responsible drinking and help for those who have become addicted.

Sponsorship can actually play an important role in this. Of course alcohol brands shouldn’t be promoted to anyone under the legal drinking age. Many rights holders have been far too lazy in the past and sold primary sponsorship rights to alcohol brands. It is also a short-sighted approach because those rights holders cannot then work with their main sponsor to communicate with children.

But alcohol brands do spend hundreds of millions of dollars supporting sport. Increasingly they are becoming involved in community projects and campaigns to drink responsibly. Some might say that they are now only doing this because they have to in an attempt to avoid new restrictions. For some companies that is probably a fair criticism and there is certainly a case for saying that they should be doing more and doing it quickly.

Sport is the ideal way to reach out into the community and promote a healthier lifestyle. If you look at the type of community programmes run by football clubs in the UK, you will see a huge amount that has been going on behind the scenes to combat racism, to help children with learning and behavioural difficulties and to teach kids about health and society. Many of these programmes are run with the backing of sponsors who provide cash and/or other resources such as equipment and occasionally staff.

It is clear that similar resources aimed at combating alcohol abuse could easily be included in such initiatives and alcohol brands can play a role here.

Sport doesn’t have to be part of the alcohol problem, it can be part of the solution, and the same can be said for alcohol sponsors.

Related links

News story:  Alcohol sponsorship ban would have little effect on underage drinking

Research paper: An investigation into the effects of sporting involvement and alcohol sponsorship on underage drinking

 

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