Healthy Sports Clubs – finding alternatives to alcohol sponsorship of Ōtautahi sports clubs

 Healthy Families

A strong vision for Healthy Families NZ is for communities to thrive across Aotearoa, free from alcohol-related harm – we, along with other Healthy Families NZ locations across the motu are working towards this by collaborating with key partners to shift the levers on regulation, advertising, sponsorship and the promotion of alcohol. 

While it has been illegal for tobacco brands to sponsor sporting events and clubs since 1990*, alcohol sponsorship of sport in Aotearoa is still permitted and there is a long history of it - in recent times, however, public health agencies, activists, and academics have proposed a ban of alcohol sponsorship of sport to help reduce the harm caused by alcohol. 

Research shows that alcohol marketing, including sponsorship, increases the risk of children drinking at earlier ages, drinking more once they start and drinking more hazardously as teenagers and adults**. Sports participants are also more likely to use alcohol and steroids than their non-sport participant counterparts***. 

As part of a series from Healthy Families Ōtautahi which aims to minimise the harm caused by alcohol, the team have embarked on “Healthy Sports Clubs”, which involves exploring how to support clubs and Regional Sport Organisations (RSO) to look at healthier funding and sponsorship options - outside of alcohol. 

Following on a 2022 discovery phase where the team worked alongside clubs and RSOs in Waitaha to gather understandings of what a “healthy sports club” means to clubs themselves, insights were gathered from multiple interviews and workshops. This exercise encouraged participants (a 50/50 split between those who support clubs, and those who actively participate in clubs) to reflect on their current practices and processes and identify any challenges and opportunities to achieving a “healthier” club. 

According to Interview and workshop participants, a “healthy sports club” as ones that are safe, welcoming, inclusive and supportive of everyone, no matter their age, ability, life stage. In addition to this, somewhere that provides social opportunities and connection – where people are happy, and having fun. Other definitions included a place that “make good people” and focuses on the whole person - not just their sporty side. Finally, a healthy sports club is a place for tamariki and rangatahi to have fun, learn new skills and socialise. 

It was acknowledged that alcohol can be engrained in a club’s culture and potentially be problematic, especially within the more traditional clubs who apparently have a long way to go to changing behaviour with alcohol. A key challenge is that one size doesn’t fit all – some clubs have alcohol engrained in their culture, as mentioned, with potentially problematic rituals such as the Player of The Day having to scull their beers or drinking heavily as part of club initiations or end of season celebrations. Whereas some clubs see alcohol as more of a social and casual connection, where having a beer after the game with mates a strong reason for joining in the first place. Other clubs don’t have alcohol in their culture at all – these are the clubs that can provide inspiration and help to others.

Sponsorship wise, the current realities of what clubs are facing are similar across the board - some key barriers mentioned were clubs being time-poor and volunteer-led with resourcing and expertise shortages, and clubs often just focusing on getting the day-to-day tasks done to exist and deliver sport as they always have. 

The current funding system has created a dependence on funding from unhealthy commodities such as from fast food and alcohol brands – as mentioned, volunteers are often overstretched and inexperienced in sourcing sponsorship, and the current unhealthy options are often the easiest to access. In saying that, however, a strong number of participants would decline conversations with unhealthy commodities based on a misalignment of ethics and values – two examples were given by different clubs where they refused lucrative sponsorship deals with businesses because they did not align with the values and the message the clubs wanted to send to their participants and spectators – one was with a cosmetic surgery company, and the other with McDonalds.   

The insights and the considerations provide a promising starting point for where to next for Healthy Families Ōtautahi and building healthier sports clubs – work will continue to dive deeper into these insights and explore options and solutions for safer clubs, communities, and whānau. You can find the full report here.

ASH welcomes the end of tobacco branding in New Zealand.
** The Spinoff, November 30 2022.
*** S Geidne (2019) Health promotion interventions in sports clubs: can we talk about a setting-based approach? A systematic mapping review.

Article added: Tuesday 02 May 2023