There is no question: Alcohol is causing great harm to the families, children, and communities, that the National Rugby League (NRL) would have you believe it cares for.
Now I’m trying to do something about it.
I find it impossible to applaud the NRL for its investment and support of community programs – no matter how worthy – in the face of its alcohol sponsorship ties and aggressive promotion of alcohol.
Last month my dad, former Rugby League player, Steve Ella, wrote to NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
He was motivated to do so by a recent NRL giveaway for The Daily Telegraph readers of a free NSW Blues branded can of VB.
He told Todd Greenberg that he was dismayed with the ever-increasing saturation of alcohol advertising and sponsorship of the NRL.
Not when alcohol causes so much harm in our communities, and not in a game that appeals to our nation’s kids.
Our children deserve more than to have their sporting heroes reduced to walking, talking alcohol advertisements.
Since playing for the NRL, dad has worked in the drug and alcohol sector for 19 years. He sees first hand the devastating impact of alcohol.
The NRL’s partnership with the alcohol industry is ill-conceived and inappropriate. It is out of step with community standards and expectations and completely undermines the NRL’s existing community programs.
One of their partners, White Ribbon, for example, is an organisation that works to prevent male violence against women. Yet, alcohol is a key factor behind domestic violence, which doesn’t just affect the women but also children and other family members.
The NRL also partner with the Blackdog Institute, which is a world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Another is Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation which provides early intervention mental health services to 12-25 year-olds, along with assistance in promoting young people’s wellbeing. This covers four core areas: mental health, physical health, work and study support and alcohol and other drug services.
How can the NRL support these organisations, while simultaneously advertising one of the major contributors to domestic violence and mental illness?
We encourage kids to get into sport for many reasons. Being active can reduce the risk of diabetes, help with healthy growing of bones and muscles, improve coordination and balance, provide mental health benefits, improve social skills and so on.
Alcohol, on the other hand, does the opposite. Alcohol can negatively impact a young person’s problem solving skills and performance at school, as well as their physical and mental health.
Don’t get me wrong, and I totally agree with my dad's view that drinking doesn’t have to be banned from live games. Who doesn’t enjoy a casual drink while watching the footy? This isn’t about a wowser or prohibitionist agenda.
This is about creating the change that the community want and need, and getting back to the game we love. The advertising of alcoholic brands must stop if we want to protect our children and prevent the negative impacts that come from alcohol.
On the NRL website that is governed by the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), they state their vision, mission and values. It reads:
- Our vision is to be the most entertaining, most engaging, most respected sport.
- Our mission is to bring people together and enrich their lives.
- We’re committed to inclusiveness, excellence, courage and teamwork defining every step. These are our core values.
Yes, I agree that footy can bring most of those things. But once you put alcohol in the mix, this vision, mission and values become false and misleading.
Advertising that alcohol and sports go hand-in-hand and that drinking alcohol at the footy is the ‘in thing’, is misleading to youth. They start drinking young, which carries over into adulthood often with negative effects.
How does this partnership ‘enrich’ one’s life and what sort of messages are we receiving from this ‘respected’ sport? Beats me.
My dad doesn’t particularly enjoy being in the spotlight, but I am so proud of him for sharing his experiences and drawing attention to this important issue.
Kristen Ella is the daughter of Steven Ella, who played in the NSW State of Origin in 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986. Kristen Ella is an Aboriginal woman from Yuin nation. She is a qualified Aboriginal Mental Health Clinician whose passion is to help contribute to Closing the Gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.