Australian Cricket needs cultural shift away from Alcohol

by James Randall

Cricket Australia has ended its sponsorship deal by Carlton United Breweries’ beer brand Victoria Bitter, after 20 years of series naming rights and prominent logo displays on uniforms.

More than 3 years after Australian Muslim cricketer Usman Khawaja’s request to no longer wear an alcohol brand on his uniform sparked both public outrage and support in a wider debate, health professionals and advocates are saying the deal’s end hasn’t come soon enough, and are urging Cricket Australia not to replace VB with a new alcohol sponsor.

Among examples of alcohol culture in Australian cricket is Melbourne beer brand Cricketers Arms, who sponsor both Cricket NSW and Cricket Victoria, as well as sole sponsors of Big Bash League teams Melbourne Stars and Sydney Sixers.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has particularly lobbied professional sports leagues such as the AFL and NFL to also end alcohol advertising in sport, estimating that Australian children already view 50 million alcohol advertisements each year.

Toby Hall, Chief Executive of St Vincent’s Health Australia, wrote an impassioned case for Cricket Australia amending its image and removing its fixation with alcohol, in the Sydney Morning Herald in December.

“The long-term repercussions are clear: 15 Australians die from alcohol-related deaths every day, and 430 are hospitalised, making alcohol second only to tobacco as our leading preventable cause of death and hospitalisation.”

Sarah Dalton, a paediatrician and emergency physician, also wrote in the Huffington Post Australia in February, telling of her own experiences with alcohol-induced violence and injuries.

“I witness firsthand the damage done by alcohol every time I work in the emergency department of a children’s hospital,” she writes. “Every shift I see children who are victims — and sometime perpetrators — of alcohol-related trauma and violence. That’s right, children. Years ago when I started training we rarely saw the side effects of a big night out, but now it is sadly all too common.”

Amidst this chorus of voices, hoping for a change in the proliferation of alcohol advertising in sport, is the example of Australia’s two Muslim national cricket players, who turned away from serving as walking billboards for the alcohol industry based on their values and beliefs.

Usman is not the only Aussie Muslim cricketer excepted from advertising alcohol, after Fawad Ahmed too had requested the same of Cricket Australia. However, his decision sparked far more debate and outcry than the former’s, not only over his role as an Australian Muslim and role model in the spotlight, but also the link between professional sports players and alcohol branding.

While yours truly wouldn’t ascribe them sole credit for the debate coming to a head as it has, Australia has an opportunity to move away from alcohol culture.

Amidst the many voices of health professionals and agencies, politicians and sports players, the media and public alike should move to encourage a society which raises informed children who can one day make the decision to drink or not, free from corporate and peer pressure.