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Alcohol Sponsorship Increases Binge Drinking by Athletes

Alcohol sponsorship and hazardous drinking in athletes are linked, according to a study led by Monash University and the University of Manchester. Published in Addiction, the survey of more than 2000 English sportspeople is the first to examine alcohol sponsorship of athletes in the UK, and comes at a time when there are calls for greater restriction or bans on alcohol sponsorship and advertising in sport.

Most of the sportspeople surveyed played community sport, and around one-third reported being sponsored by an alcohol-related industry such as a brewer or pub. Sportspeople who received alcohol sponsorship consumed more and had higher rates of hazardous drinking after accounting for factors such as the type of sport played, age, gender, disposable income and region.

Alcohol consumption was high in athletes overall, and 50% of those sponsored by an alcohol-related industry had scores on the World Health Organisation’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test – indicating the need for brief counselling and further monitoring of drinking – compared with 39% of non-sponsored athletes.

A/Prof Kerry O’Brien of Monash University, who led the study, said that excessive drinking is more common in young adults who play sport or are fans. “Alcohol sponsorship (and the drinking culture it perpetuates) appears to be one of these reasons,” O’Brien said.

The study mirrors findings from countries that have similar alcohol and sport sponsorship and advertising arrangements, such as Australia and New Zealand. However, the study went further by testing the alcohol industry’s argument that the effect of sponsorship on alcohol consumption may be unique to New Zealand or because heavy drinkers seek out alcohol sponsorship. The study results show that the effect of sponsorship on drinking remains after accounting for sponsorship-seeking and other factors.

O’Brien said there was a perception in the community that social and health benefits of sport might be compromised by the use of sport for the promotion of alcohol. “Our study raises the question of whether sports that have such sponsorships and advertising might promote poorer health and social outcomes,” he said.