No crisis unused: Eurocare argues for a ban on alcohol sponsorship in sports

While the world is battling the Coronavirus crisis, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (EUROCARE) is facing a different goliath: alcohol sponsorship… in sports? A head-scratcher of sorts, especially given that the sports industry will fall on hard times this year if COVID-19 drags on. With cancelled events and games, cutting the sports industry off from vital sponsorship income is cruel at best.

In the press release from EUROCARE, the group says:

“Millions of people – including children and young people – are exposed to alcohol sponsorship. The evidence is clear that alcohol marketing exposure is a cause of binge drinking and drinking onset among young people. It also influences their attitudes and increases their likelihood of developing problems with alcohol later in life.”

Naturally, these activists are not referring to specific evidence that points to this phenomenon. With children at a young age picking up smoking, including cannabis – both not advertised in any way – points to the conclusion that sponsorship is hardly the origin of substance abuse.

In fact, when we look at this problem we quickly figure out that it is not sponsorship in sports, or sponsorship altogether that is the problem for these groups, but alcohol in itself. They are the new prohibitionists, unable to halt until they have banned every last drop of fun. 

Ultimately, what sponsorship cannot be seen by children? Be it public advertisement in public transport or bus stops, or any TV channel or radio show: children can technically hear and see all advertising that adults have access to. The channels that are children-only already don’t feature these ads, and online portals such as YouTube allow for parental control that blocks all age-inappropriate pop-ups.

We should also stress that it should first and foremost be the obligations of parents to protect their children from harm, by educating them about appropriate and safe alcohol use. Delegating this responsibility to government agencies will culminate in an avalanche of bureaucracy that is not in the interest of consumer choice.

Banning ads in the name of protecting children is a backdoor to blatant bans on advertising for products altogether. Other vices are also at risk, as the press release also reveals:

“This research comes at a time when the place of gambling in sport has been called into question and we need to consider the propriety of linking any addictive and health-harming product with sport.”

The reality is this: consumers want products, and they want to enjoy vices such as alcohol. We should aim for responsible and educated consumers, as opposed to blatant patronising bans. Substance abuse is a real problem, yet we need to recognise that there are underlying problems that explain it, going beyond mere sponsorship. 

Whether or not alcohol is advertised has no impact on unemployment or any other personal hardship that leads to excesses in alcohol use. These problems need solving through different educational and social institutions, and most importantly through improved personal relationships. We as a society have responsibility to our friends and family, more than any governmental institution may proclaim to own.

Advertising plays an important role for consumers: it informs them about new and better products and allows for competition. Advertising is the extended arm of consumer choice, and ought to be protected.

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