The irony of it all

  • Post category:News

By damien maher from The Irish Independent

Monday August 06 2012

The Olympics are a stark contrast between peak condition athletes and a burger-munching public

As an avid sports fan, I have marvelled at the athleticism of the different competitors in the Olympics. I’d been to London twice in the last month, and I watched as anticipation of the event increased.

But one aspect that I find slightly ironic is the area of sponsorship surrounding the games. The Olympics have now followed the route of other sports, which have accepted sponsors from industries not aligned with their participants, like the Heineken Cup in rugby and the Guinness Hurling Championship.

Advertising standards when it comes to sport are different in the various countries. The French authorities have restrictions on alcohol sponsorship, and the Heineken Cup there is advertised as the H Cup.

Here in Ireland, Minister of State for Health Roisin Shorthall has committed to working on phasing out alcohol sponsorship of sports events over a reasonable period of time. The ‘reasonable period of time’ needs to be defined, but this idea is a step in the right direction.

As a nation, we should be promoting sports as an alternative to those who are drinking too much, yet instead drinking has become intrinsically associated with sporting events.

A day at the match can often be more about the alcohol than the sporting event itself. Yet, it is well known that those who drink to excess are more likely to suffer from severe depression, stress, anxiety and alcohol dependence.

The phasing out of alcohol sponsorship in Gaelic games and rugby follows the sponsorship ban on the tobacco industry of sporting events like snooker.

In 2001, the then Minister for Health and Children Micheal Martin introduced a complete ban on all forms of advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products.

If tobacco was considered an addictive drug that harmed our health, why was alcohol not treated the same way?

Why can’t we accept that we have a problem with alcohol in this country? As Professor Frank Murray, Registrar of RCPI (Royal College of Physicians of Ireland) and Consultant Gastroenterologist at Beaumont Hospital, said recently: “The damaging effects of Ireland’s dysfunctional relationship with alcohol simply can’t be ignored. Alcohol is the third major cause of premature death and disability, after cigarettes and hypertension, and the major cause of death in men aged 35-50.”

The other major health challenges facing us today are obesity and diabetes.

While the Olympic athletes will compete in their respective sports in peak physical condition, the next generation of kids watching from the stands will be eating fast food meals that have contributed to rising obesity.

Many of these foods and drinks conflict with the Olympic ideal, and yet they are seemingly embraced by the event. McDonald’s, for example, is the only branded food outlet inside Olympic Park. Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s and Heineken are also event partners.

McDonald’s have four outlets in Olympic Park, including the biggest restaurant in the world that plans to serve 1,200 customers an hour during the games.

So while London plays host to the fittest, fastest and strongest athletes in the world, who will stretch themselves to the limit, it will also limit the options of healthy fresh foods to its spectators who choose to see these athletes in action. They will gorge on tens of thousands of burgers and portions of fries.

The games have provided a platform for sponsored messages for calorie-dense, sugar-laden food and drink that are at odds with the ideal physique of the Olympian. Remember, there were no statues in Greece of out-of-shape athletes.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) originally resisted funding by corporate sponsors. It wasn’t until the retirement of IOC president Avery Brundage in 1972 that they began to explore the potential of the television medium and the lucrative advertising markets available to them.

Brundage believed that the lobby of corporate interests would unduly impact the IOC’s decision-making. Under the leadership of Juan Antonio Samaranch, however, the games began to shift towards international brands that sought to link their products to the Olympic brand.

London originally won the right to host the 2012 Games with the promise to deliver a legacy of more active, healthier children across the world. But the IOC persisted in accepting deals with the manufactures and distributors of high-calorie food that is contributing to the obesity epidemic.

McDonald’s say that they provide details of the calories of each meal. The truth is that it’s not about the calories; it’s what happens to us hormonally and digestively when we consume food that counts.

Foods that turn into sugar quickly start a rollercoaster effect, raising our blood sugar, making our pancreas secrete insulin to try and drive this sugar into a muscle cell. If you aren’t active you will become more resistant to taking sugar into your cells and the body will then store this energy as fat.

This leads to low blood sugar, bad moods and eventually more sugar cravings and the cycle will continue.

The most costly Olympic games have been the current ones, with the spend running into the billions.

The real question should be what the IOC’s decision will cost in terms of long-term healthcare to our nations’ budgets.

– damien maher