Women's football shows drink and gambling the red card

The grassroots body for women's football in Scotland has vowed to keep the game 'clean' in the face of overtures from the alcohol and gambling industries who are courting it for sponsorship deals.

Vivienne MacLaren, chair of Scottish Women's Football, at Hampden Park. Picture: John Devlin

Big companies are queueing up to get involved in the women’s game, with the stock of the Scotland Women’s national team at an all-time high given the recent qualification for next year’s World Cup in France and their participation in last year’s UEFA Women’s Championship.

However, Vivienne MacLaren, the chair of Scottish Women’s Football, told Scotland on Sunday the organisation that looks after domestic competitions has “knocked back” sponsorship deals from alcohol and gambling in the past and will continue to do so. This is at odds with the men’s game, where all the major competitions in Scotland are sponsored by betting companies, including the Ladbrokes Premiership, the William Hill Scottish Cup and the BetFred Cup.

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Last week the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and drinks company Diageo launched a campaign to promote responsible drinking. They hope to reach a million Scots with the Drink Positive campaign.

The initiative will use the William Hill Scottish Cup to encourage fans, coaches and players to be aware of the effects of alcohol and to encourage moderate drinking.

MacLaren said she understands why clubs in Scotland take sponsorship money from drink and gambling giants, given they are the only ones with substantial budgets to spend on football. But she is quick to stress the women’s game is striving to offer a different proposition.

MacLaren said: “In Scotland alcohol and gambling are two of the biggest scourges. A massive percentage of our members registered to play football are under 18, so we feel we have a real duty to make sure the brands we are associating with and the message we are putting out are positive ones.

“We don’t want to take money when there’s girls playing football out there who can’t afford to get to training. We’re trying to help clubs support their players.There’s kids that can’t afford football boots and yet there’s alcohol and gambling brands around a lot of sports.”

The Scottish Government announced additional funding for the national team squad ahead of next year’s World Cup, which will allow them to train full-time.

MacLaren said: “For us to bring in different types of sponsors we have to position women’s football as a different proposition. It’s a partnership, it’s about education.

“We want to give something back to the players and the volunteers that play and help week in, week out.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland and a vehement critic of the SFA link with Diageo, said: “Alcohol marketing should have no place in sport.

“By linking their brands to sports events and teams, alcohol companies imply that drinking is part of a healthy and active life. In fact, alcohol is a cause of cancer, heart disease, liver disease and stroke and was responsible for 3,705 Scots losing their lives in 2015.”

Dr Peter Rice, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, warned: “Research has shown high levels of alcohol brand awareness among 11 and 12-year-old children in the UK, and much of this awareness comes from sports sponsorship, especially football.

“The advertising regulation codes written by the alcohol and advertising industries themselves say that advertising should not associate alcohol with fitness or sporting success.

“These codes are designed for broadcast and media advertising, but sponsorship clearly achieves the same marketing goals for companies and we believe is used to get around regulation.

“It would be unacceptable to have a beer advert in a magazine aimed at children, yet children see Champions League games ‘brought to them’ by a beer company.

“This is an inappropriate association and we would ultimately like to see the end of it in football, and we commend the Scottish women’s game for their leadership.”