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Health Researchers Call For Alcohol Industry To Prove No Harm In Funding Of Sports

November 10, 2009

Researchers from Australia and the UK are calling for a new approach to the debate over whether alcohol industry sponsorship of sports increases drinking among sports participants. They want to shift the burden of proof to the alcohol industry.

The debate over sports sponsorship saw renewed activity last year when the findings of a 2008 New Zealand study among sports participants showed that those who received alcohol industry sponsorship ““ especially in the form of free or discounted alcohol ““ drank more heavily than those not in receipt of such sponsorship. The study received extensive media coverage, but the Portman Group (a public relations body set up by the alcohol industry) and the European Sponsorship Association (whose members include leading alcohol producers) dismissed the results, citing no causal relationship between sponsorships and alcohol misuse.

In an editorial to be published in the journal Addiction, researchers say that the alcohol industry should be required to prove that industry sponsorship of sports does not cause unhealthy alcohol use among adults or encourage children to drink. They argue that “it should not be left to the public to demonstrate that alcohol industry sponsorship is harmful but rather, it should be up to the proponents of the activity, i.e., the alcohol industry, to show that the practice is harmless.” Lead author Dr Kypros Kypri said that the position taken by the drinks industry is reminiscent of that taken by the tobacco companies, which until the 1990s doggedly denied that there was proof of a causal association between smoking and lung cancer. Until the industry has proved lack of harm, governments should prohibit alcohol industry sponsorship of sports.

Dr Kypri suggested that “The latest moves by the major sporting codes in Australia, to lobby against the regulation of alcohol sponsorship of sport, are indicative that these bodies remain in denial of alcohol-related problems in their sports. In addition, it is clear that the these organizations have enormous vested interests in continuing to receive alcohol money and government should be careful to act in the public interest rather than cave in to the sports and Big Booze.” Co-author Dr Kerry O’Brien of the University of Manchester added that “Sport administrators are sending mixed messages to sportspeople and fans when on the one hand they embrace and peddle alcohol via sport, yet on the other punish individual sport stars and fans when they display loutish behavior while under its influences.”

In place of industry sponsorship, the researchers suggest that governments use the proceeds from alcohol taxation to sponsor sports via an independent body. Such an approach is already in place in Australia and New Zealand, where tax revenues from tobacco sales are used to sponsor sports and other activities through publicly accountable agencies. The authors point out that this has the added advantage of providing a more equitable and accountable basis for allocating sponsorship of elite and community sport than leaving it up to the alcohol industry to decide who gets funded.

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