England’s last-minute defeat at the hands of Wales will have had more than a few fans heading to the pubs and bars around Twickenham to drown their sorrows and to discuss that cross-field kick. And the same can safely be said for Wales fans who will have headed out in celebration or raised a few drinks in their living rooms in triumph and relief that they pulled it off against the old enemy.
The Rugby World Cup is once again in the UK along with the spectacle of power, pace, flair and determination. And there will be plenty of disappointment, injustice and injury. Guaranteed, too, is the increased profits of the alcohol companies, a strain on the emergency services, physical and sexual abuse of medical professionals, and the desecration of city centres brought about by drunken rugby fans. There is little risk of the kinds of clashes that one might expect between football fans – rugby is a gentleman’s game, after all – but there will be a fair share of violence, disorder and damage that inevitably accompanies sustained and heavy drinking.
Tradition has it that the players themselves will get involved drinking – so long as they don’t bring the game into disrepute through their drunken actions. After all, you can’t celebrate without alcohol can you? Heavy drinking is not the exclusive preserve of sports fans, but the pubs and clubs of Cardiff are gearing themselves up for a profitable few weeks.
Customers will be lured to licensed premises on the promise of cheap alcohol, a big screen and an electric atmosphere, blocking views and spilling pints over shoes as they travel backwards and forwards into the bars. The marketing of alcohol products such as Guinness and RWC sponsors, Heineken, will go into overdrive. TV adverts and hoardings will seek to place a particular brand of alcohol at the centre of the rugby experience.
Children, normally protected from such exposure, will be bombarded by alcohol commercials and logos. Sports coverage is an exception to the regulations which prohibit advertising alcohol to children. All this contributes to the normalisation of alcohol in general and getting drunk in particular. Despite the evidence that more and more young people are now abstaining completely from alcohol, a significant proportion of young and old will take the opportunity to drink more and more during sporting events like the World Cup.
Sport provides a legitimate excuse to drink in the afternoon, or on a school night or to continue drinking to celebrate or commiserate a victory or loss. There is a dangerous indifference to heavy drinking in sport where drugs are demonised.
The reality of course is that alcohol is far more dangerous to our young people than other drugs. Being drunk increases the risk of committing crime, being a victim of crime and being a victim of sexual assault, yet parents continue to initiate children into alcohol in the belief that this will protect them from abusing it. This is another myth and the logic would not be extended to tobacco, ecstasy or cocaine. The acute and chronic effects of alcohol misuse cost the economy billions of pounds each year and leads to numerous health and social problems.
Sport will yet again play its part in normalising this potentially dangerous drug and legitimise all our overindulgence in the next month or so. Sport – and its high profile players – should exemplify a sensible and responsible relationship with alcohol.
The alcohol industry is not alone in exploiting sport for profit. Gambling companies are increasingly targeting sport for marketing and sponsorship purposes. Rugby fans will be encouraged to bet on a variety of different “markets” via a myriad of different platforms. Bookmakers, like brewers, will be licking their lips ahead of the profits and exposure to come their way over the next month or so.
Gambling, like alcohol can cause widespread misery. A growing number of individuals are becoming hooked on betting and destroying their own and their families’ lives. Yet like alcohol, this dangerous industry has seen significant deregulation in the UK with the result of huge market growth.
The more people gamble, the more they develop problems, this includes high-profile sports stars. It’s not that gambling and alcohol should be prohibited, however there are serious risks associated with both. In fact recent research shows a close connection between heavy drinking and problem gambling. Sport in general and the Rugby World Cup in particular will once again be complicit in sending out the strong message that alcohol and betting are safe, normal and an essential part of the sporting experience. And no one benefits from that.