Demon drink is polluting the world of sport

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks.

After attending the Canadian F1 Grand Prix in Montreal it was over to Poland for a couple of Euro 2012 matches. I popped down to New Zealand for the first rugby test. Then I went to a few GAA matches as the Championship kicked off before heading out to San Francisco for the US Open at the gorgeous Olympic course. In case you get the wrong idea all of this was done from the vantage point of my sofa, equipped with a new battery in the remote control.

Modern technology has transformed the way we live and nowhere is that more evident than in sport. Years ago my father and I used to watch the Open golf tournament limited broadcasts on grainy TV screens.

Now, I can watch Padraig Harrington’s shots in ultra slow-mo through high definition images live anywhere in the world. Across all the sport events I watched last week GAA games fared worst in terms of presentation quality due, clearly, to less resources being committed to their transmission.

There are two pernicious aspects of modern sport that worry me. One is the drive to reach record levels of monetary prizes and salaries. The other is the omnipotent presence of alcohol in advertising certain sports. Soccer and rugby, two sports that are especially popular with kids, have an extraordinary degree of alcohol promotion built into them and increasingly offer an explicit nexus between success and material wealth.

Two images regarding drink stick in my mind. The first was a day after that magnificent first victory by Munster in the European Cup in 2006. I was lucky to be in Cardiff for the final, probably the highlight of my life as a fan of many sports. The following day saw the team paraded through Limerick and on a stand they were all introduced to the crowd while slugging from bottles of their favourite beer tipple. Role modelling? I don’t think so.

The second image is of a crowd of drunk Irish fans in Poland. They, of course, were doing no harm to anyone except themselves. So that’s okay, is it? The Irish ”” great losers and always up for a bit of alcohol-inspired craic. We live in a country where alcohol consumption is a real corrosive force in our society, yet key sports that inhabit our lives are underpinned by drink.

These thoughts were racing through my head last weekend while driving back to Gougane Barra. We passed a bus with Garda outriders heading towards Cork. It was the Kerry team on their way to a beating. Here are sportsmen who do not play the sport for money yet sacrifice enormous amounts of their lives to excel in our national game.

That ability by the GAA to retain an amateur ethos in the face of waves of commerciality is something worth respecting. Yet it too is infiltrated by alcohol advertising. Gaelic games were invented to provide meaningful outlets for children and teenagers across Ireland that could keep them fit, active and engaged in team activities. It was never, surely, meant as a partner for a product that has so damaged generations of Irish families.

So, this meandering article is trying to argue that while sport globally is now being broadcast in more innovative ways than ever it brings with it elements that are not all for the good.

Money and alcohol are key cocktails in the momentum behind some of our most popular sports and that threatens to eat in to the eyeball share of other sports where less money is available to provide the high-end slow-mo images that entice viewers.

Gaelic games face that challenge and finding ways to compete for fans and viewers must be done while eschewing alcohol advertising. Leaving that process to the market alone could be a dangerous error. Sport, after all, is not just another product.