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Alcohol sponsorship linked to hazardous drinking in sportspeople

18 Nov 2008

A new study provides the first evidence of a link between alcohol-industry sponsorship and hazardous drinking among sportspeople.

Dr Kerry O'Brien
Dr Kerry O'Brien

Researchers from The University of Manchester and the University of Newcastle in Australia quizzed nearly 1,300 sportspeople and found alcohol-related companies sponsored almost half of them.

The sponsorship ranged from financial incentives, such as payment of competition fees and the supply of sports kit, but nearly half of the sponsorship deals included free or discounted alcohol for sporting functions and post-match celebrations.

The study, published in the December edition of the journal Addiction, found that sportspeople sponsored by the alcohol industry were more likely to engage in binge drinking than those with no alcohol sponsor.

This figure increased significantly when the sponsorship deal included free or discounted booze, and among those sportspeople who believed there was an obligation for them to drink the sponsor’s products or attend their establishments.

“Alcohol consumption is a leading cause of mortality, responsible for 9.2% of the disease burden in developed countries,” said the study’s author, Dr Kerry O’Brien, who is based in Manchester’s School of Psychological Sciences.

“Heavy episodic drinking is particularly harmful. It is common among sportspeople and is associated with other risky behaviour, such as drink-driving, unprotected sex and antisocial behaviour.”

A growing body of research has detailed the drinking behaviour of sportspeople, including peer pressure and the increased opportunities for consumption, but this is the first time a link between sport sponsorship and hazardous drinking by sportspeople has been investigated.

“Sportspeople receiving direct alcohol-industry sponsorship of any kind, including payment of competition fees, costs for uniforms and the provision of alcoholic beverages, reported more hazardous drinking than those not receiving sponsorship,” said Dr O’Brien.

“Similarly, those receiving free or discounted drinks from sponsors and those sportspeople that felt they were required to drink their sponsor’s alcohol product at their establishments reported even higher levels of drinking.

“While finding that provision of free or discounted alcohol is linked to higher-reported drinking seems common sense, we needed to show clearly that this form of sponsorship occurs, and that it is actually associated with hazardous drinking.”

The research, say the authors, raises serious ethical issues for sports administrators concerned with the health of sportspeople. Dr O’Brien added: “We suggest that health and governmental organisations need to work with sporting organisations and clubs to find ways to sever links with the alcohol industry, while still ensuring sports groups have sufficient financial support.”

Commenting on the report, Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians and chair of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance said:

"This study, undertaken in a country with a similar sports and drinking culture to our own, gives the stark messages that hazardous drinking, common in sport, is seen more when the individual or club is sponsored by the drinks industry. Providing discounted or free alcoholic drinks was the worst offender.

"Alcohol producers and retailers have worked long and hard to align themselves to the positive and healthy image of sport, and we now have evidence that this is not only proving effective but also potentially damaging to those that participate. Some countries like France have already banned alcohol-related sports sponsorship and it is time we had that debate in the UK."

Ends

Notes for editors

The research examined the nature and extent of alcohol-industry sponsorship on the drinking behaviour of 1,279 sportspeople in New Zealand.

Alcohol-industry sponsorship was reported by 47.8%, with 46.7% of these reporting being given free or discounted alcohol products; the remaining 53.3% received non-alcohol-related sponsorship, such as payment of fees, team kit or equipment.

Dr Kerry O’Brien and his co-author Dr Kypros Kypri from the University of Newcastle (Australia), believe the findings apply to all countries with similar drinking cultures to Australia and New Zealand, specifically the UK and Ireland.

A copy of the paper is available on request.

For further information contact:

Aeron Haworth

Media Officer

Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences

The University of Manchester

Manchester

UK

Tel: +44 (0)161 275 8383

Mob: +44 (0)7717 881563

Email: aeron.haworth@manchester.ac.uk