The prominent yet dangerous role of alcohol at major sporting events

Melbourne Cup 2015 (Image Credit: Tourism Victoria)

As a proud sporting nation, it is embedded within Aussie culture to crack open a cold one with a few mates while watching the AFL Grand Final or indulging in a glass of champagne over the races, however the role alcohol plays in these events has shown to cause potential harms for the community.

In 2013 VicHealth released a report stating that the only places where Australians do not think it is suitable to drink at is church, baby showers, and study groups.  The findings portrayed that 67 percent of young Victorians (aged 16-29 years old) drink at levels that put them at risk of injury from a single drinking occasion.

When compared with older Victorians (aged 30 years and above) only 17 percent of young Victorians thought it was acceptable to be drunk at barbecues at home versus 35 percent of older Victorians.  Regarding being drunk at sporting events, 14 percent of young Victorians thought it was acceptable to be drunk in these environments in comparison to 32 percent of older Victorians.

These findings suggest that older Victorians seek comfort in drinking within the comforts of their own homes and pairing this with the recently eased COVID-19 lockdown, the role of alcohol within the home has played an increasingly central role.

Due to the coronavirus restrictions, the 2020 Victorian sporting calendar has seen drastic changes from the Formula 1 Grand Prix being cancelled, to the Melbourne Cup not allowing spectators, to the AFL Grand Final being held in Queensland for the first time in 123 years. 

As a result, Victorians have watched these events live from home, drinking among their loved ones instead of gathering with friends either at the events in person or at other friends’ houses.

Whilst there is an element of fun and excitement in having a drink or two while cheering on a sporting match, there is no denying the problematic relationship between alcohol and sport in Australia.

Addiction treatment centre Turning Point and VicHealth released a joint report in 2011 outlining the alcohol-induced harms occurring at major sporting events, with significantly elevated case numbers of acute alcohol intoxication found on the days of Melbourne Cup and the AFL Grand Final.

The study outlined that there was a significant increase in motor vehicle accidents among youth on the day of the Melbourne Cup, AFL Grand Final and Formula 1 Grand Prix.  There was also an increase in alcohol intoxication related ambulance attendances among youth on the day of the Melbourne Cup.

The findings also portrayed that there were significant increases in the levels of assaults and family incidents on the days of Melbourne Cup, Formula 1 Grand Prix, AFL Grand Final and international cricket matches.

The Melbourne Cup specifically saw an increase in assaults both in the lead up to the event and on the day of the event, whilst the day preceding the AFL Grand Final and Formula 1 Grand Prix saw elevated assaults for all groups examined except females.

Throughout these major sporting events alcohol advertising and sponsorship is extremely prevalent, normalising individuals to drink to get drunk and then engage in risky behaviours as a result.

Although alcohol will never be banned at these events despite the spike of alcohol-induced harms that occur, organisations such as Turning Point and VicHealth continue to target the prevention, intervention and treatment to reduce the extent of these harms within the community.

VicHealth & Turning Point Report available: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/~/media/resourcecentre/publicationsandresources/alcohol%20misuse/drinkingcultures-sportingevents/fullreport_drinkingcultures-sportingevents_vichealth-turningpoint.ashx

VicHealth Report available: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/~/media/ResourceCentre/PublicationsandResources/alcohol%20misuse/A-snapshot-of-Victorias-alcohol-culture_selected%20findings.ashx

Georgia Franc

Georgia is a media & communications student at the University of Melbourne and is pursuing a career in journalism. She also has a passion for foreign languages, writing and travel. She also currently works as an associate for an investment management company where she focuses on data research with input on various marketing processes.

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