OPINION: Good sports don’t need all that booze

MONEY GAME: The link between sport and alcohol is established, among other things, by brands slapped across the jerseys of top sports performers.IN Australia, one in four people are members of, or participate in, community sport.

Community sports clubs make an important contribution to our way of life, providing an opportunity for physical activity, recreation, social interaction, volunteering, and social cohesion for young and old alike.

In some clubs, however, the way alcohol is made available and managed diminishes this positive contribution.

The association between community sport and alcohol is a reflection of that between sport and alcohol in Australia generally.

The Australian cricket team wears sports caps emblazoned with a beer sponsor’s logo, an image of a brewer is across the chest of every NSW State of Origin player, and commentators applaud players celebrating their victory with alcohol.

A little-known consequence of this association is that sports players and fans consume alcohol at higher levels than the general community.

As a consequence, they are at greater risk of being involved in assaults, injured through motor vehicle accidents, and being at risk of alcohol dependence.

The Australian Drug Foundation’s “Good Sports” accreditation program has been working with community sports clubs for over a decade to reduce the harm associated with excessive alcohol use by players, members and fans.

The program supports clubs to implement alcohol management practices consistent with liquor licensing legislation, including the avoidance of under-age drinking, drinking games and alcohol promotions, providing safe transport options for patrons, sourcing sponsorship from non-alcohol-related organisations and promoting a healthy, family friendly club.

Nationally there are more than 5800 sporting clubs enrolled in the program, with 161 accredited in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie region.

The program has had many positive impacts on sporting clubs and their members.

For example, accreditation with the program saw a dramatic improvement in the reputation and fortunes of the Thurgoona AFL Football/Netball club, that was previously known for alcohol-fuelled incidents, poor on-field behaviour and team performance, and low club membership.

Accreditation with the Good Sports program saw an increase in club membership and game attendance, a $124,000 increase in sponsorship income, substantial reductions in alcohol-related incidents and the club climbing the competition ladder.

The positive impact of the program has been supported in a recent randomised, controlled trial conducted by the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Population Health and the Australian Drug Foundation.

The trial, conducted in Hunter New England, Central Coast and Sydney football clubs, found that members of clubs that implemented the program were less likely to consume alcohol at risky levels, and less likely to be at risk of alcohol-related problems than members of clubs that did not implement the program.

Importantly, the trial also found the clubs that implemented the program did not suffer a loss of revenue.

For the community to obtain the most benefit from initiatives like the Good Sports program, the number of sports clubs able to participate in it must be maximised.

Given the high cost and difficulty of achieving this across metropolitan, regional and rural areas, a need exists to identify sustainable ways of providing ongoing support to clubs.

Based on the positive findings of the program, and positive feedback from clubs, the partnership between the University, Hunter New England Health and the Australian Drug Foundation is about to embark on developing additional strategies to support sports clubs who want to implement the program.

The partnership, funded by the Australian Research Council, will develop and implement web-based resources such as information, checklists, tools and other resources so that community sports clubs can better manage the availability and supply of alcohol.

In this way, clubs right across Australia will be able to simultaneously access support in a cost-effective way.

If we are to reduce the unacceptable burden of alcohol-related problems, all sections of the community need to consider the ways in which they can contribute to achieving this objective.

Through their adoption of the Good Sports program, community sports clubs have demonstrated a willingness to make such a contribution.

Through our work, we seek to ensure that such clubs have the best available support to do so.

Professor John Wiggers, Dr Luke Wolfenden and Melanie Kingsland, of the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle. Further information regarding the Good Sports program can be obtained from the Australian Drug Foundation.