Back in 1980 Th’ Dudes recorded the song Bliss.
It’s opening lines include; “Drink yourself more Bliss, Forget about the last one get yourself another”.
Fast forward to 2019, and it’s hard to imagine a better theme song to endorse the malicious beer drinking culture that permeates the NRL.
This is top-down stuff. Forget the dull-headed prop, the show pony outside back.
Sure, these guys get paid to play footy, but if the Carlton United Breweries’ 20-year relationship with the NRL is anything to go by, they are paid to sink piss too.
The lapdog attitude of the NRL is best exemplified by State of Origin.
Such is the desire for the hierarchy to suck on the teat of the breweries while ignoring any social impact, the annual ‘Mate versus Mate’ fixture has both major breweries as sponsors.
It was not without its controversy though. In the true spirit of where the game’s leaders heads are at, the controversy was not around whether this level of sponsorship was disingenuous of any social impact but whether they could successfully navigate the potential corporate conflict.
NSWRL CEO Dave Trodden illustrated it’s business as usual, saying; “Obviously we’ll look to be supportive of our commercial partners and supporters, give them the best experience they can during Origin”.
If the “experience” includes dishing out copious amounts of advertising to minors, then the game is 30 points ahead at this point.
Is it time to turn off the sponsorship tap? Recent research by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) found there were 376 instances of alcohol advertising during the broadcast of the 2018 NRL grand final.
Counter that with eleven instances of anti-drink driving advertisements and zero for either rape, domestic violence or assault.
It’s gross negligence on behalf of the NRL. It’s important to remember that sport has the right of way to distribute this advertising content to children at any time of the day during the course of a weekend.
The wrong way to grow to the game? A recent nationwide study determined nine of ten parents opposed their children being exposed to high volumes of alcohol advertising during sport.
While the NRL likes to talk ‘growing the game’ and ‘increasing participation’, it’s this type of evidence that runs contrary to the NRL’s morbid fascination with syphoning off every last dollar of booze sponsorship and ramming it down the throats of vulnerable children.
Having personally witnessed how a boozed-up father reacts when his team loses, I can only sympathise with the almost 40 per cent of women who have to confront alcohol-related physical abuse within a relationship.
If these stats are alarming to you and me, then, in the context of the ‘line in the sand’ that the NRL has recently trumpeted, they either have their heads buried under that line or they are deliberately ignoring the overwhelming evidence at hand.
Again, this is high-level hypocrisy that stems from insistence and reliance on the amber money flooding the game.
Over the offseason from hell (not too dissimilar to any previous offseason), the NRL has come out swinging. But all the rhetoric points to the same place.
Fines, sanctions and stand-downs of players. The NRL keeps telling us the players need to grow up and, granted, we’d have to be thicker than a slab of VB to do anything but agree.
Of course, the rogue element needs to pull its head in. The NRL and the ARLC recently debated the merits of standing down a player facing serious criminal charges.
What they should also have debated is whether or not alcohol sponsorship should be a part of the game or, at the very least, imposing sanctions around what is deemed acceptable content to be showing minors.
If they want to have their cake and eat it too (which, since the demise of tobacco sponsorship, they have been all too keen to do), then they would be well advised to temper the gorging of the liquor cake with some strong promotion around harm reduction.
This is something they have given mere lip service to in the past.
While sponsorship dollars disappear faster than a boofhead sculling a schooner, the NRL might well consider there is a much wider scope to the problems facing the game.
Good honest family-run businesses, corporates that offer legitimate everyday services, these are the businesses that are pulling out.
It’s hard to imagine a day when either of the major breweries would ever want to pull their sponsorship dollars, but if the NRL wants to meet a time when the only sponsorship they get is from alcohol then they are on the way.
It is simply a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ these alcohol advertising sanctions come into place. The time is now for the NRL to show some true leadership and fortitude.
Sadly, I think it will be another case of business as usual.