A joint initiative, Focus on Youth, Football and Alcohol (FYFA), co-funded by the European Union and involving eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from seven European countries, including Scotland, has been reviewing the policies of international and national sporting bodies in relation to alcohol and young people.
The intention is to prevent and reduce the harms that young people experience because of alcohol. The project is based on the premise that alcohol marketing should have no place in sport, but that sporting contexts can serve the important function of promoting healthy and positive lifestyles with young people and others.
The project is being co-ordinated across Europe by Brussels-based Eurocare (European Alcohol Policy Alliance), which has several decades of experience in challenging the exposure of young people – including in sporting contexts – to alcohol advertising and sponsorship.
The FYFA project actively challenges the notion that there is a ‘natural affinity’ between sport, particularly football, and alcohol promotion, including sponsorship.
In Scotland, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has been undertaking research to assess attitudes to alcohol and to understand strategies – if they exist – within international sporting federations. The study has found that the issue of preventing alcohol-related harm has not really been on most organisations’ radars to date.
SHAAP examined policies and practices related to young people, alcohol and sport, and engaged with 36 federations to find that only two – those established for aquatics events and the luge – have banned marketing and sponsorship by the alcohol industry.
The FYFA project is supported by eight NGO partners from seven EU countries – the UK, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Finland and Slovenia.
Dr Briege Nugent, SHAAP’s lead researcher, says: “The federations are certainly clear that sport can be a positive influence in young people’s lives. However, they haven’t really thought about how that is contradicted by the exposure of young people to alcohol marketing in sporting contexts. That’s really not okay.”
Dr Eric Carlin, SHAAP Director, says: “This project provides the opportunity to explore at international, national and local levels how alcohol companies have insinuated themselves into what should be positive health-promoting contexts in sport.
“This is especially the case in traditionally ‘masculine’ sports, such as football and rugby, with the idea that there’s something ‘natural’ about the affinity between sport and alcohol. Of course that’s absolute rubbish, although it’s an idea that’s been hyped by alcohol companies.
“However, it is being challenged and one of the areas of brightness from the public health perspective is the strong lead given by Scottish Women’s Football, whom we’re proud to partner with, making clear that promoting alcohol and unhealthy commodities should have no place in contemporary sporting contexts.
“Scottish Women’s Football has vowed never to accept sponsorship from alcohol, gambling or fast food companies.”
Carlin observes that the alcohol industry has been adept at circumventing policies, such as the Loi Évin in France, which aim to prohibit or limit alcohol marketing in sports. Using strategies – including what has been dubbed “alibi” marketing, where alcohol companies avoid using brand names – they can still communicate images which people recognise as being associated with their brand, through colours, typefaces and the use of familiar catchphrases.
The objective, of course, is to continue the alcohol-sport association, undermining health-focused regulatory attempts.
Another part of the research is being led by the Italian body Istituto Superiore di Sanita and includes interviews with key stakeholders in the global sporting industry, such as governments and national clubs, to find out if alcohol marketing and sport is of concern to them, to help identify good practice and to make evidence-based recommendations for improvement.
The FYFA research also includes working with local sports clubs to find out what’s going on there and also to ask young people themselves what they think about alcohol and sport.
To this end, SHAAP is interviewing staff and young members of Spartans Community Football Academy, a social enterprise based in Edinburgh.
Nugent says: “The whole idea of this part of the research is to really hear directly from the young people – and believe me, they can be very eloquent, passionate and persuasive in their arguments.
“What’s struck me in particular, so far, is that young people really take the issue of safety seriously and they really want to be safe if they are in contexts where alcohol is available and consumed, whether by themselves or others.
“Therefore, health promoting bodies and sports federations need to promote strategies that help to keep young people safe.”
Nugent adds: “To me, it is strange that they do all this good work on one hand, yet they don’t get the irony that alcohol marketing in sporting contexts is undermining these efforts.”
SHAAP’s international review was the first part of a three-stage project launched in October 2017 to identify good practice around Europe, before publishing its findings and recommendations as part of a conference scheduled for August 2020.
Last week, FYFA held an international meeting in Warsaw, to share initial findings and receive feedback from experts from across Europe. These discussions will help guide the next stages of the project and shape the final reports.
FYFA will highlight the ways in which sport can be a powerful tool in promoting healthy lifestyles and can help reduce alcohol-related harm.
For more information, visit https://www.shaap.org.uk/