The runs are coming thick and fast in the current Victoria Bitter One Day International Series between Australia and India, bested only by the onslaught of alcohol advertising both on and off the pitch as well as in the commercial breaks in between the on field action.
That barrage of alcohol ads on the telly are the result of an egregious loophole in Australia’s legislation that allows for alcohol advertising to be broadcast on television before 8:30pm during sporting broadcasts on weekends and public holidays.
So while the Australian cricket team deservedly basks in the glow of its 4-0 series lead with only the fifth and final game of the series to be played; Cricket Australia and the alcohol companies that advertise during sporting events deserve only our disdain.
Of course we know why the alcohol industry does it.
Alcohol companies know only too well that the earlier children are exposed to alcohol branding, the more likely they are to commence drinking earlier and the more likely they are to drink to excess.
And make no mistake. The Australian alcohol industry is absolutely dependent on not simply recruiting new drinkers but ensuring that its customers drink at levels harmful to their health.
A new video produced by my organisation, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), earlier this week exposed the Australian alcohol industry’s heavy reliance on risky drinkers, with over 3.8 million Aussies averaging more than four standard drinks of alcohol a day, twice the recommended health guidelines.
Targeted by the alcohol industry and branded as ‘super consumers’, the industry’s best customers represent just 20 per cent of Australians aged 14 and above, yet they account for a staggering 74.2 per cent all the alcohol consumed as a nation each year.
This is the alcohol industry’s dirty little secret. It’s an industry built on identifying, targeting and exploiting its best customers, and ensuring that they continue to misuse and abuse alcohol.
So much so, that if the industry’s best customers were to drink within the guidelines, the total alcohol consumed as a nation would be reduced by a staggering 39 per cent or more than 38 million litres of pure alcohol.
Unfortunately, we will all grow old waiting for the alcohol industry to ever agree to effective measures that would save lives and reduce harm, and to willingly stop exploiting these opportunities to link alcohol products with sport.
It is government that must accept the ultimate responsibility to ensure that vested interests do not trump the health and welfare of our children, our families and our communities.
The price we pay as a society is already too high; a heavy burden that extends beyond the 5,500 deaths and the 157,000 hospitalisations every year.
It’s been almost ten months since Australia’s one-day cricket team won the 2015 ICC World Cup. Thanks to a series of unfortunate and embarrassing post-game interviews by Channel Nine’s Shane Warne and members of the cricket team, it was not the sporting victory that held the nation’s attention in the days to follow, but rather the communities building disappointment and outrage that alcohol and a culture of drinking to excess had literally drowned out and overwhelmed the sporting achievement.
I said then that I hoped the strong reaction would make clear to sports administrators and those responsible in government that it was time for action.
To date those calls have fallen on deaf ears.
Today Cricket Australia still worships at the feet of Big Alcohol. Still accepts millions of dollars for the honour of a logo on a shirt and the naming rights to its contests. Still works hand-in-cricket glove with the alcohol industry with the knowledge that by doing so Cricket Australia is complicit in recruiting the risky drinkers so crucial to the alcohol industry’s bottom line and normalising the alcohol-drenched culture.
Far from strengthening its code during its recent review, Free TV Australia failed to remove the sports loophole and relaxed its code even further.
And while we can take comfort in changing community attitudes that recognise it is not acceptable that our children be exposed to a sporting code inextricably linked to big alcohol and a culture of risky drinking, it seems that Free TV Australia, Cricket Australia and our governments remain two steps behind and alarmingly out of touch.
Michael Thorn is Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol and Education Research.