Alison Douglas: Let’s not normalise alcohol through sport

Picture: Ian Georgeson
Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Alcohol should never be seen as a normal part of growing up, and we should be limiting these big businesses’ sponsorship of sport, says Alison Douglas

The appeal of sports sponsorship to children and young people is obvious and long-lasting – nearly 40 years on I can still remember how much I coveted the John Player Special Formula One matchbox car my friend Colin had. Tobacco sports sponsorship was banned in 2005 and it would now be considered outrageous for high-profile teams like Celtic to be brand ambassadors for tobacco – so why is it acceptable for alcohol?

Major alcohol brands are prominent in almost every high-profile sporting event today, from the Olympics to the Champions League, Ryder Cup, Formula 1 and Wimbledon.

Celtic advertise Magners cider on their shirts, while the Scottish Football Association has a seven-figure “official beer partner” sponsorship deal with Tennent’s. Scottish Rugby has several alcohol deals which means the brands Guinness, Crabbie’s and Caledonia Best are all over Murrayfield. Why do companies spend over £300 million on sponsoring sports in the UK? It’s not for love of the game. It’s a business tactic to increase brand awareness and boost sales and profits – and it works.

Alcohol brands are allowed to dominate sporting events that attract significant numbers of children as well as adults. Sports sponsorship enables companies to establish a link between their brand and our sporting heroes.

It provides companies with direct and regular access to impressionable young people who are most susceptible to positive messaging about alcohol and to the effects of alcohol itself.

There is strong evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing leads young people to drink at an earlier age, and to drink more.

Over two-thirds of people in Scotland agree that children are getting the message that drinking alcohol is a normal part of enjoying sports events.

That’s why Alcohol Focus Scotland, along with BMA (Scotland), Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, is asking politicians to sign our pledge: “I believe that alcohol marketing has no place in childhood.”

We think children have the right to play, learn and socialise in places that are free from alcohol marketing, and we have received support from all of the political parties.

The Scottish Parliament has the power to restrict alcohol sponsorship in Scotland, and 70 per cent of Scots support this. It’s true that removing alcohol sponsorship from sport won’t break the link completely as television is the most common medium for watching sport and broadcast advertising is reserved to Westminster.

However, Scotland has taken the lead in other public health initiatives which England then followed and we can do the same again.

• Alison Douglas is chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland