Peter Williams: Boozy ways best seen out in the open

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Why am I so unimpressed by sportsmen's drinking escapades? Is it just a middle-aged man sneering at modern youth or is there now a really serious binge drinking problem - worse than, say, 30 years ago?

These are the thoughts of a man who was no choir boy and who's not proud of a conviction for drink driving a decade ago. But some incidents last weekend made me really think about the effect alcohol is having on an entire generation, including one of the most naturally gifted cricketers this country has produced, Jesse Ryder..

The first I heard of Ryder's latest indiscretion was in the Otago Daily Times last Saturday, the morning after I'd seen some outrageous behaviour in a so-called civilised drinking establishment.

I was in a small South Island town and went to a crowded bar around 10.30pm. It was heaving with about 70 people, mainly male, most of whom had apparently been drinking since midday. Among them were recent All Blacks who can claim they were indulging in private activity and shouldn't be identified.

It was a scene, I'm told, normal at countless bars. Most people were not just extremely drunk but incoherent and it was no surprise when the police arrived. They took a couple of guys away (not the recent All Blacks), and the bar was shut.

If this is the kind of environment top sportsmen are exposed to regularly, then it's not surprising there are so many incidents.

Sport in this country has always revolved around a booze culture, even at the highest level. Disgraceful behaviour by national representatives is nothing new. The All Black centre Ron Rangi of the 1960s once drunkenly abused an official's wife at an after-match function. He was never selected for an overseas tour.

In 1979, Geoff Howarth was bowled first ball in the second innings of a test against Pakistan in Christchurch. He was convicted of drunk driving after having been picked up the night before his golden duck. They made him captain the next year. More recently, I've seen a New Zealand pace bowler carried from a bar in Cape Town by team-mates less than 48 hours before a one day international in another city. He took none for 75 in 10 overs.

Maybe if the media scrutiny was tougher then, attitudes might be different now. For years, sports reporting was a mates' business. I broadcast the test in Christchurch and knew Geoff had tested positive. Never mentioned it on air. Did I suggest why that bowler performed so abysmally at Bloemfontein? No.

The reporting of drunken incidents involving top players is now widespread. So it should be. Until there's acceptance from players and fans that heavy drinking by young men in this country is a serious problem, it won't go away.

It would help if lawyers, public relations men and sports administrators recognised that trying to hide the issue from public scrutiny doesn't help either.

- Herald on Sunday

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