Toby Hall - Guardian Australia
For a moment there, I thought we were going to see some real change.
Late last week, Cricket Australia and Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) announced their 20-year sponsorship deal – estimated to have been worth $65m over five years – had come to an end.
No longer would Australian cricket players take to the field with Victoria Bitter logos emblazoned across their chests.
Was this a sign Cricket Australia would chart a new course and choose a major sponsor with no affiliation with alcohol?
What prospect the leadership of Cricket Australia had finally listened to the voices of experts and researchers across the country about the damaging link between alcohol advertising and sport and early drinking among children?
Had Cricket Australia sensed the unease among its supporters, particularly parents, at the sport’s immersion in alcohol, and were they now ready to act?
It only took three days for hopes to be dashed.
On Monday, Cricket Australia announced that Lion Nathan’s XXXX beer would replace VB as the sport’s ‘gold’ sponsor. And while the code’s executive were quick to point out that the deal didn’t include beer branding on player shirts, cricket’s capitulation – once again – to Big Alcohol’s deep pockets was swift and complete.
Cricket Australia had a golden chance to make a positive decision in naming a new chief sponsor to replace VB. It could have shown the other major sporting codes still heavily dependent on alcohol – rugby league and Australian Rules – that there were alternatives…but it blew it.
In the process, Cricket Australia has clearly signalled that when it comes to its responsibilities as custodians of our national summer game, it will always put the health of its bottom line above the health and well-being of its young fans.
If we can’t expect those in charge of our major sporting codes to act according to the public good, then we’re going to have do something about it ourselves, and if we must, without them.
As a start, we need to close the loophole that allows alcohol ads to be shown during live sporting broadcasts in daylight hours.
Television alcohol ads are banned on free-to-air TV before 8.30pm to protect children. But the cosy partnership between sport and alcohol gets special treatment, with alcohol ads allowed to air during daytime sports broadcasts if on weekends or public holidays.
If you’ve ever sat down on a Saturday afternoon and watched a one-day cricket international or football fixture with your children and felt uncomfortable at the number of alcohol ads being poured down your throats, there’s a reason for that.
This loophole means that four alcohol ads air during TV sporting broadcasts for every one in non-sport television.
The result is Australian children are currently exposed to a cumulative total more than 50 million alcohol advertisements each year, with almost half occurring during the day.
And why does that matter?
Because the independent evidence tells us – time and time again – that repeat exposure to high-level alcohol promotion speeds up the onset of drinking among young people and increases the amount consumed by those already drinking.
The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has said that at the behest of the Prime Minister, he’s working on a major, soon-to-be-released preventive health strategy.
If we’re going to start preventing some of the 15 alcohol-related deaths and 430 hospitalisations that occur in Australia every day, then ending all daytime alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sport must be part of the Minister’s plans.
In the wake of Cricket Australia’s CUB announcement, the NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, expressed his strong concern at the connection between alcohol and sport and said he hoped that governments did not need to go as far as legislating against alcohol promotion in sports, as was done for tobacco.
But given the alcohol dependence of many of our major sporting codes, we must now consider a legislative response to phasing out all alcohol sponsorship of teams, clubs or sporting programs, along with the placement of alcohol brands or imagery on sporting merchandise, in the interests of public health.
Cricket Australia may pat itself on the back for not agreeing to include XXXX logos on player’s shirts, but according to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, there are still more than 20 existing alcohol sponsorships in professional cricket in Australia.
Most reasonably-minded people find that sort of exposure deeply unsettling.
Australian cricket – and its supporters – have been badly let down by the game’s guardians.