Alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport to be addressed by Government
Rugby League legend Graham Lowe is "deeply saddened" a 2014 report which recommended banning alcohol advertising in sport has been met with silence from the Government.
The former New Zealand rugby league coach chaired a ministerial forum on alcohol advertising and sponsorship, ordered by Cabinet to consider whether further restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship would help reduce alcohol-related harm in society.
The panel included public health experts, a sports academic and an advertising representative.
It made bold recommendations on alcohol restrictions including stripping all sporting events, stadiums, teams and television slots of any booze advertising or sponsorship.
Lowe said he was reporting to Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne but had not heard from him since the report was completed in October 2014.
"The silence is deafening which is worrying," Lowe said.
Panel members had stuck their necks out making recommendations that proved unpopular with many in the sporting community, who feared a ban would starve clubs and organisations of precious funding, he said.
"I feel deeply saddened for the panel because we put our heart and soul into it and we certainly didn't try and win a popularity contest.
"We were there to see if we thought there was an issue and there is an issue."
Dunne said the Government was yet to respond formally to the forum's recommendations because Ministers were still considering the most effective and appropriate measures to be taken in response to them.
"It is not a straight forward issue as it requires multi-agency consultation and input from Justice, Health, SportNZ etcetera," Dunne said.
He expected the Government to present its position by the end of the year.
When the report was released Justice Minister Amy Adams, whose ministry supported the panel, said officials would consider the recommendations and report back by the middle of 2015.
On Thursday she said the report made some sweeping suggestions, which would have far-reaching impacts for grassroots sports clubs.
Ministers had asked for further work on the feasibility and impact of the proposals, she said.
"The forum's report raises a number of questions, particularly around understanding the full effect of the proposals which the forum themselves note they have been unable to consider," Adams said.
Lowe said what he found most startling during the review was evidence of the "brainwashing" effect exposure to alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport had on children.
"The issue is the in your face big time sport where the heroes of the young are playing.
"That's where the kids are influenced by it."
Panel members were paid $400 a day and spent close to a year reviewing several hundred written submissions, attending meetings and reviewing research.
Panel member and Auckland University of Technology professor Max Abbott said the panel were optimistic that positive changes would come of the review.
"We were pretty confident that the Government would pick up on these," Abbott said.
"Why set up the forum when it's not done in good faith?"
While some perceived the recommendations as over the top, health professionals wanted to more from the report, he said.
"Many of them thought that we hadn't go far enough but we thought it would be politically palatable as a first step."
Abbott said it was hard to exaggerate the social and health costs alcohol had on society, with more than half a million New Zealanders having "hazardous" drinking habits.
The Government response towards alcohol was no where near proportionate to the amount of harm it caused, he said.
In 2010 the Law Commission presented a similar report called Alcohol in our Lives: Curbing the Harm, proposing a five year plan of advertising interventions including banning all alcohol advertising.
It estimated the annual cost of alcohol-related harm in New Zealand was in the range of $735 million to $16.1 billion.
Brewers Association spokesman Kevin Sinnott said an advertising ban would have a detrimental effect on sporting and cultural organisations as well as the economy, while having a "negligible impact" on risky drinking, particularly amongst youth.
The cost of implementing the panel's recommendations would be "astronomical" and the benefits questionable, it said.
Brewer's Association members, including Lion and DB, invest millions in New Zealand sport each year, he said.
"The goal of this investment is not to increase consumption but rather to build loyalty and brand awareness," Sinnott said.
School of Sport and Recreation associate professor Geoff Dickson said predicting the impact of banning alcohol sponsorship was not easy.
The vast majority of alcohol sponsorship was invested in elite and professional sport, he said.
"It is difficult to see how any bans will impact negatively junior sport or non-elite sport," Dickson said.
"When calculating the impact, we must remember that replacement sponsors will be found."
However, replacement sponsors may not contribute as much as.
If alcohol advertising and sponsorships were banned it would create a "dark market", he said.
One of the ways companies compete in dark markets is lower their price.
A ban could also potentially affect New Zealand's ability to host some major international sport events that have alcohol sponsors, he said.
Of all New Zealand's top professional sports teams New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) is the only one without an alcohol sponsor - and not through a lack of offers.
NZRL acting commercial general manager Philippa Ivory said its only alcohol sponsorship over the past six years was DB's responsible drinking programme Cheers! involvement in the 2014 Rugby League Four Nations tournament.
NZRL had declined alcohol sponsorship offers since then, she said.
"We want to say whereever we can they we're doing the best by every member in our community," Ivory said.
"We try to make positive choices across a range of areas, it's not limited to alcohol."
The organisation also worked with district health boards to make rugby league sidelines alcohol and smoke free, she said.
"You have to make choices about messages and where possible we want to talk about responsible decisions."
One of the most enduring examples of alcohol advertising in sports is the 30-year partnership between the All Blacks and Lion-produced Steinlager.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said a complete ban on alcohol sponsorship in New Zealand would have a significant impact on communities.
Thanks to the strength of the All Blacks, NZ Rugby would be able to replace income lost from alcohol companies with brands from other categories.
"It would be an awful lot harder for our provincial unions and the local rugby clubs, as it would be for other community organisations, that are still reliant on the support they get from local publicans, local restaurants, the two big breweries and increasingly the large number of boutique craft breweries," Tew said.
The Association of New Zealand Advertisers chief executive Lindsay Mouat dismissed the report and said there was no need to change the rules or regulations around alcohol marketing in sport.
"The report should be rejected, there's nothing new coming from it," Mouat said.
Measures were in place to prevent children from being targeted by alcohol advertising, he said.
"We have here in New Zealand a rigorous code to protect young people from being targeted and it works well."
The association was disappointed by the forum's findings because it did not recognise that friends and family were the strongest influences on young people's drinking behaviour, he said.