Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Sport blamed for Pacific teens' drinking

Michael Jones says that once people realised he didn't want to drink, he was offered orange juice.  Photo / File
Michael Jones says that once people realised he didn't want to drink, he was offered orange juice. Photo / File

About a third of Pacific Island high school students binge-drink and many say they started after joining a sports team or club.

A study published in the NZ Medical Journal yesterday looking at binge drinking and alcohol-related behaviours among Pacific youth surveyed 974 Pacific students aged 13 to 17 from around the country.

A total of 31.6 per cent of students were identified as binge drinkers, having answered questions about their drinking habits.

The study found that those teens who participated in sports teams or were connected to a sports club were more at risk of binge-drinking. And it has since surfaced that a number of parents in South Auckland are refusing to sign their children up to local sports clubs as they don't want them caught up in a drinking culture.

ASB College Sport chief executive Manoj Daji said he knew of cases where parents did not want their children joining clubs for that reason.

"One of the barriers that [we're] finding for transitioning students from school sport to club sport is that a number of parents ... don't want their kids associated with the drinking culture.

"They're happy for school-based sport ... but they're worried that if [their child] goes and plays at the local club, where there's alcohol, that it could be an influencing factor on their development."

In the study, 47 per cent of students said they consumed alcohol "to get drunk" and 45 per cent said they drank "to relax". About 36 per cent said they drank because of boredom while 23 per cent said they did so "because my friends do".

All Black legend Michael Jones said he understood what young Pacific athletes faced. Even as a 17-year-old coming through the ranks at the Waitemata Rugby Club in the 1980s, he was surrounded by a drinking culture. He said for many young Pacific Islanders - brought up in strict homes - the sports club was a place to freely socialise and drink without a fear of being caught.

"When you're doing well in sports, people want to shout you. People wanted to shout me, but it was, 'no thanks'. Once you drew the line, they did respect you and then they just gave you orange juice."

Jones said the fact that alcohol was readily available made it hard to say no. However, he always refrained from slipping into temptation.

"For me, it was the Christian thing to do, but when the rubber met the road, I didn't want to let my mum down. I was scared of the wrath of my mother," he laughed.

Another key finding was that of those students identified as not being heavy drinkers or who refrained from drinking altogether, 77.1 per cent attended church. Most of those students also had close connections to their cultural background.

Mangere MP Su'a William Sio said the latter findings indicated that policymakers needed to join forces with church leaders and even high-profile Pacific sports stars to campaign against binge-drinking among Pacific youth.

Mr Sio said: "The church organisations ... provide very strong and positive influences. Policymakers need to take advantage of that."

- NZ Herald

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