Alcohol marketing and football - The unsporting romance

Euro 2016 began, and it is the biggest in the tournament’s history, with more teams – the very first time that Albania is also participating; more matches, more visitors, higher sales, higher profit and it will be located in more host cities than ever. Yet, we have the same way of celebrating sport. Alcohol industry is the general sponsor; people use alcohol before – during – after the match, it's not very important if the beloved team loses or wins; different type of drinking contests are published and people are being part, some city centers are converted into Euro 2016 Fan Zones where sport lovers can see the match in huge screens and consume beer. The consumption of alcohol has become firmly embedded in the Albanian culture.

It seems now, more than ever, that sport is very important not only for adults, but even more for children and young people. It continuously sends a lot of messages, which are mostly welcomed, but it is undeniable that football is associated with alcohol and the messages transmitted through alcohol marketing are not the ones that we would want children and young people to face. A number of studies have demonstrated a relationship between alcohol marketing and youth alcohol use-related behavior. Young people, especially those who are already showing signs of alcohol-related problems, are particularly vulnerable to alcohol marketing, which shapes their attitudes, perceptions and expectancies about alcohol use which then influence their decision to use alcohol.

“Greater exposure to alcohol advertising contributes to an increase in alcohol use among underage youth. For each additional dollar per capita spent on alcohol advertising in a local market (above the national average of $6.80 per capita), young people consumed 3% more.”

“Youth who saw more alcohol advertisements consumed more on average, each additional advertisement seen increasing the number of drinks consumed by 1%.”

Alcohol marketing in public space is persuasive and fuels social injustices, erodes communities’ resilience and undermines sustainability. The alcohol industry has been keen to align themselves to the positive and healthy image of sport, but it is very difficult to merge football’s potential for creating and promoting healthy lifestyles with the amount of alcohol marketing linked with them. Such marketing appears in various guises, including TV commercials and pitch-side adverts, sponsorships, ‘official’ club beers and stadium ‘pouring rights’. Like for example, when you think of Champions League, you also think about Heineken. The influence of alcohol can be easily seen in the news coming from France and all the discussions to ban alcohol use there.

In addition to the discussions on alcohol use and marketing, a few days before Euro 2016 began,a huge debate erupted in almost all the social medias and portals of Albania. While the Albanian's national football team training was happening in Austria, before the start of the final phase of "Euro 2016", the Central Back, Mergim Mavraj ignored the contract agreement and refused to wear the shirt with the logo of “Birra Peja”. Peja is a beer company and also the general sponsor of our national team. The decision not to wear the t-shirt derives from his strong religious beliefs, based on which he doesn’t use and promote alcohol. In response to the action of Mavraj, the company produced beers with 0% alcohol, to promote and share. It all started with a ‘funny’ billboard that said “Especially for you, Mergim!” and followed with “Peja Zero” posters and ads all over the fun zones.

Mergim’s reaction was based on religion and it would be efficient to give a short background on the topic, considering also that we are in the Holy month of Ramadan: Islam’s holistic approach to health and well-being means that anything that is harmful or mostly harmful, is forbidden. Therefore, Islam takes an uncompromising stand towards alcohol and forbids its consumption in either small or large quantities. Even if we consult the scriptures of all the religions and beliefs of humanity, we will understand that they have overlapping yet distinct relationships with alcohol, but what connects them all is the disapproval of alcohol consumption, particularly excessive consumption, because it interferes with rational understanding, awareness of reality and individual responsibility. Also in science (medicine, biology, psychology, anthropology, etc.), the use of incentives to create parallel delusional realities is seen and treated as a great disturbance in the functioning of the human individual.

I consider Mergim’s act, a direct act of freedom, strength and independence and thanks to it there were plenty of questions, analysis and comments that surfaced. Football matches should be family-friendly events where children are not exposed to alcohol-related harm.What if we all stand for what we believe and support more the ones that are trying hard to make our environment safer, calmer and more inclusive?

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