Healthy result for girls’ game

Sarah Devine celebrates a winning partnership sealed between Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and Scottish Women’s Football

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has teamed up with Scottish Womens Football (SWF) in an historic sponsorship move..

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has teamed up with Scottish Women’s Football (SWF), the female wing of the Scottish Football Association, in an historic sponsorship move aimed at tackling alcohol-related problems in young women.

SHAAP has been named sponsor of the SWF’s National Performance League and NPL Cup, the elite level for girls’ under-19s and under-15s football in Scotland, for both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

It is the first time a Scottish sporting body has been formally backed by an organisation aimed at addressing the issues caused by alcohol misuse, and the first instance of an SWF youth game being sponsored.

In 2016, SWF vowed never to accept sponsorship from gambling or alcohol-related commercial organisations and its chair, Vivienne MacLaren, believes links to such companies would send unhealthy signals to young people.

With 80 per cent of SWF’s members aged under 18, she declares the decision to disavow such associations was a “no-brainer”.

“The message should be about health, wellbeing and diet,” she insists. “They’re playing sports so that’s a great thing to be doing, but we want to look at how we can help young people with their overall lifestyle.

“All these things are important and [accepting] alcohol and gambling sponsorship is not the right message we want to be putting to them.

“We have been approached by both sectors looking to partner with us and have turned [alcohol and gambling companies] down.”

SWF is currently run on an non-professional basis, meaning its funding comes from sponsorship only, and – despite this – the organisation remains steadfast in its refusal to partner with alcohol and gambling-related businesses, preferring instead to present a positive image that promises long-term benefits.

SHAAP’s sponsorship will allow SWF to focus on a range of education areas, increase awareness and conduct ground-breaking studies. The first research project will investigate NPL players’ perceptions concerning alcohol. Any changes in their attitudes over the next 12 months will be examined in a follow-up study next year

MacLaren says: “Previous research shows that, contrary to popular belief, many footballers actually do not drink alcohol, because they want to achieve what their role models in the first team have achieved by not going out and getting drunk with their friends every week.

“I think women’s football is different to a lot of other sports in that regard.”

She notes that as the NPL is at the top end of the women’s game, it means the attitude survey will encompass players who perform at an international level for Scotland and other national women’s squads.

SHAAP was set up by the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges in 2006 with the aim of reducing alcohol-related harm.

The organisation has been influential in the development of Scotland’s minimum unit pricing policy, which came into force in May 2018.

SHAAP will press for policies on alcohol sports sponsorship to follow those which ended similar arrangements by tobacco firms in 2005.

It is also hoped that the unprecedented partnership between SHAAP and SWF will provide education and awareness to not only the players and members of the footballing body, but to those involved throughout all areas of the wider game.

According to MacLaren, the announcement is timely, as the number of registered Scottish female football players is at a record level of more than 8,000. With this backdrop, SWF is working towards achieving a semi-professional level within the next two years.

She says: “The SHAAP partnership has just reiterated our unique approach in terms of sponsors and what we are trying to achieve in terms of helping our players and members to foster a healthy attitude – whether that’s mental health, diet or exercise.

“We want to reinforce that message to our members and hopefully down the line we will get bigger and bigger partners to get involved.”

It is a worthy goal, and one that the collaboration between SHAAP and SWF has firmly in its sights.