Sporting life is a vital part of Australian culture. Of course, in such a diverse country, there are those who prefer not to participate in or watch sports, but most Australians are aware of our nation’s vivid, storied sporting history, from Don Bradman and Cathy Freeman to Australian tennis’ star, Alex de Minaur. According to mumbrella, Aussies watch an estimated sixty million hours of sport per week – and included in those sixty million hours is advertising.
Sports advertising is a lucrative game, and sponsors become household names by virtue of naming rights, shirt logo placements, and iconic adverts. This, however, is viewed by some as problematic. Among the billion people worldwide who watched the FIFA World Cup final, for example, there must have been some of Australia’s 10,000 children in protection due to parental or family problem drinking.
It is children at the centre of a nationwide campaign to end alcohol advertising in sport. The 26.9 million children watching Australia’s major televised sporting codes are exposed to a broad variety of advertisements, both overt and subtle, normalising and reinforcing alcohol consumption. Of course, not all of these children will grow up to develop problems around alcohol – the majority will consume in moderation, as is consistent with the general population. However, there is cause for wider concern about alcohol consumption in Australia.
There is no question that problem alcohol use is a major issue for Australians. Alcohol use accounts for 5,500 lives lost, and 157,000 hospitalisations annually across the country. Advertising and normalisation of drinking culture has generated what Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn calls an “alcogenic” society, where problem consumption of alcohol risks being under-recognised and under-treated.
At SMART Recovery Australia meetings, alcohol is the leading addiction issue that we see. For many people in recovery from alcohol addiction, alcohol advertising, which depicts drinking alcohol as a fun, carefree activity, can be triggering and alienating, particularly in the vulnerable early stages of recovery.
All people, whether they struggle with addiction or not, deserve to enjoy their pastimes without having to worry about their traumatic lived experiences. What to do about alcohol advertising in sport isn’t SMART Recovery’s decision to make, but the evidence is clear that something must be done to combat the rising toll of alcohol misuse in Australians.