Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Alcohol and sport link in spotlight

Study investigates connection between liquor sponsorship and problem drinking in sportspeople.

The Warriors are sponsored by brewer Lion Nathan. Photo / APN
The Warriors are sponsored by brewer Lion Nathan. Photo / APN

Sports players and clubs who are sponsored by liquor companies are much more likely to drink dangerously, a researcher will tell a conference on alcohol-related harm today.

Monash University behavioural studies expert Dr Kerry O'Brien has investigated whether there is any connection between alcohol sponsorship and problem drinking on both sides of the Tasman.

He will present some of his findings at the "Perils of Alcohol Marketing" conference, hosted by public health lobby group Alcohol Action NZ in Wellington.

After a Law Commission recommendation, the Government discussed restrictions on alcohol marketing in the liquor reforms which passed into law in December, but decided to consult more widely on the issue this year before it made any changes.

Dr O'Brien, a University of Otago psychology graduate, and colleagues asked 652 Australian sportspeople aged between 18 and 45 years whether they or their club received sponsorship in the form of money, uniforms, equipment, or other products from alcohol or non-alcohol related companies.

The participants then completed a World Health Organisation test which was used to identify people whose alcohol consumption had become hazardous or harmful to their health.

After accounting for confounding factors such as age, gender, or when a person began drinking, the researchers found that rates of dangerous drinking were higher in those receiving alcohol sponsorship than those not receiving alcohol sponsorship. The authors said that the study had some limits, but these did not seriously compromise the research: "We cannot completely discount the possibility that heavier drinkers sought out alcohol sponsorship."

The findings were consistent with an earlier study by Dr O'Brien which applied the same test to New Zealand sportspeople.

The larger study of 1300 participants found that alcohol sponsorship, in particular free or discounted beverages, was associated with hazardous drinking. "Sports administration bodies should consider the health and ethical risks of accepting alcohol industry sponsorship," the paper concluded.

The Government did not directly tackle sponsorship in the Alcohol Reform Bill, though it did create new offences for the promotion of excessive consumption or targeting of young people in advertising.

Instead, Justice Minister Judith Collins said an expert forum would be established to consider further restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship to reduce liquor-related harm. The forum had not yet been set up, but was scheduled to report back in December.

Alcohol sponsorship pervades all levels of sporting codes in New Zealand, from amateur clubs to elite sport. The Black Caps and New Zealand Warriors all have major deals with beer brands.

Liquor company Lion Nathan, which sponsored the New Zealand Warriors and others, said it did not believe there was a link between sponsorship and alcoholism and pointed to the research's "huge limitations".

Spokeswoman Liz Read said that the primary audience for sports sponsorship was the millions of New Zealanders who drank beer responsibly while watching rugby or other sports.

In a separate study, Dr O'Brien found that drunken behaviour by sports stars - such as All Black Zac Guildford - had no effect on the drinking habits of young people.

The numbers

652 sportspeople surveyed

29.7 per centsponsored by alcohol company

68 per centof those sponsored by alcohol companies classed as hazardous drinkers

- NZ Herald

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