Silly season is non-stop for Australian sports

In Australia, the period between the cricket ending and the footy starting is often referred to
as the silly season. It’s a short period between competitions where sports fans don’t quite
know what to do with themselves.

But how would you feel if I told you that the silly season in Australian sport is not a few
weeks long, but 365 days a year?

There is a little known loophole in the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice that
allows beer, wine and spirits to be advertised during sports programs before 8.30pm on
weekends and public holidays– at just the times when children are most likely to be

It makes no sense. On every other day of the week, during every other program on
television, there is recognition that alcohol ads are harmful to children and should not be
shown before 8.30pm. Why is it acceptable to broadcast these ads during sport?

This decisions lies with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which
approved and registered the loophole. In 2015 ACMA actually broadened the loophole from
just live sports to all sports programs, increasing the potential harms of alcohol advertising to

I’m not sure whether or not alcohol companies deliberately use this loophole to target
children. That’s a question for them. I am sure however that our children are the collateral
damage of their campaigns, bombarded by a cumulative 50 million alcohol advertisements a

I witness firsthand the damage done by alcohol every time I work in the emergency
department of a children’s hospital. Every shift I see children who are victims – and
sometime perpetrators – of alcohol related trauma and violence. That’s right, children. Years
ago when I started training we rarely saw the side effects of a big night out, but now it is
sadly all too common.

Sure, alcohol marketing isn’t entirely to blame, but multiple studies point to its impact.
Evidence reviewed by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians last year revealed that
exposure to alcohol advertising encourages children to start drinking earlier, to binge more
often and to start a journey toward established drinking and exposure to other alcoholrelated

Unfortunately, it’s not just on our television screens that alcohol companies are reaching
young Australians. In fact, every major Australian sport is influenced by alcohol marketing of
some kindiv.

Cricket fans will know that the season has just finished and we have again seen another
Australian victory in the VB One Day International Series. If you somehow didn’t realise VB
was the naming rights sponsor, you would have been left in no doubt of their involvement
after seeing the logo splashed across the shirts of Australian players. Remarkably, the VB
naming rights are only one of more than 20 alcohol-related sponsorships in professional
cricket across Australia.

Our footy codes are busily preparing for the 2017 season. As some 180,000 young
Auskickers dream of running out on the MCG, are they also aware that the association
between Carlton United Breweries (CUB) and the VFL-AFL goes back well over 100 yearsv?

Will they also notice the number of alcohol logos that have flashed in front of their eyes even
before the first goal of the game?

For rugby league fans, the scene is set for another exciting State of Origin Series. Will the
Queensland XXXX Maroons dynasty continue or will the NSW VB Blues bring the shield
back to Sydney? As the three games are typically the most watched programs on television
every yearvi, I am sure millions of Australian children will know the answer in May. And
evidence tells us that after the game they are just as likely to be able to identify the
associated alcohol brands as their favourite sporting heroesvii.

I find it very difficult to reconcile the fact that these professional sports, events which
captivate and inspire young children to be healthy and dominate schoolyard discussion, are
being flooded by the branding of a product that, in excess, is so harmful.

Of course alcohol marketing is not the only cause of dangerous drinking habits, but let me be
very clear: it is having a significant impact on young Australians. As a paediatrician, I can no
longer stand by and watch while our young people are exposed to the harms of alcohol

It is time for a national conversation to discuss how big brewers are using sport as a channel
to market their product. It needs to stop. It would be silly not to.

Dr Sarah Dalton*
RACP Paediatrics & Child Health Division President

*Dr Sarah Dalton is a Paediatric Emergency Physician at The Children’s Hospital at
Westmead in Sydney and Clinical Lead at the NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation after
joining in July 2016. She is also the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) RACP
Paediatrics & Child Health Division President.

Dr Dalton is also a former Clinical Director of the Clinical Excellence Commission, NSW. She
has completed a Masters in Applied Management in Health and a Bachelor of Medicine,
both at the University of Newcastle.

Dr Dalton has a particular interest in Clinical Leadership and recently completed a Fulbright
Scholarship evaluating Clinical Leadership Development Programs in the United States.

iThe Australian Communications and Media Authority, The ACMA registers new Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice. 2016. 
iiCarr S, O’Brien K, Ferris J, et al. Child and adolescent exposure to alcohol advertising in Australia’s major televised sports. Drug and Alcohol Review 2015: DOI: 10.1111/dar.12326.
iiiAcademy of Medical Sciences. Calling time: the nation’s drinking as a major health issue. A report
from the Academy of Medical Sciences. 2004.
ivThe Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Through Children’s Eyes: Alcohol Promotion in Sport. Fact sheet (PDF 34MB); 2016.
vThe Age. AFL season 2016: Beer company makes big cut to sponsorship. 2016.
viThe Australian. State of Origin scores ratings record. 2016.
viiPhillipson L, Jones S. Awareness of Alcohol Advertising Among Children Who Watched Televised Sports. Centre for Health Initiatives, University of Wollongong. 2007.
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