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Sport should be associated with (and inspire) good health and team spirit, and should not be used as a marketing tool for harmful products. The sophisticated, pervasive and widespread nature of alcohol sports sponsorship activity in Scotland exposes our nation to a high level of alcohol marketing which is a major public health concern. We are calling on the Scottish Government to implement a total ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport, in order to protect the health of the Scottish nation.
Scotland’s alcohol problem
Alcohol harm is one of Scotland’s most pervasive public health issues, evidenced by the latest alcohol death figures from the National Records for Scotland (NRS). The figures show an increase from 1,020 alcohol-specific deaths in 2020 to 1,245 in 2021, with death rates 5.6 times higher among those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland, compared to the least. In 2020/21, there were 35,124 alcohol-related hospital stays in Scotland (at a rate of 641 per 100,000).
National Records of Scotland (2021) Alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland increase.
Alcohol sponsorship and marketing in sport
It is well established that exposure to alcohol marketing is causally associated with the initiation of drinking, an increase in alcohol consumption (including binge drinking), and also an increased risk of relapse (for those in recovery). Alcohol companies invest billions of pounds every year in marketing, aiming to increase the consumption of their products, often through the targeting of heavy drinkers and recruitment of new drinkers. A causal relationship has been established whereby alcohol sports sponsorship influences consumption rates not only amongst fans, but also in those who play sports. Sport sponsorship provides alcohol companies with a prominent and highly attractive method of reaching a large audience, influencing how much and how often they consume alcohol. Sponsorship is an especially influential communications tool - which allows brands to form attractive associations and capitalise on fans’ emotional connections with sport and sports teams. See References.
Current legislation in the UK (and Scotland)
The UK currently adopts a permissive, industry-led, self-regulatory approach to the regulation of alcohol marketing and there are currently no legislative restrictions on alcohol sponsorship of sports in Scotland. The UK alcohol industry self-regulatory code (the Portman Group’s Code of Practice on Alcohol Sponsorship) indicates that all sport sponsorship relations must include a recognisable commitment to promoting responsible alcohol use (although our ‘Alcohol marketing during the 2020 Six Nations Championship’ report found no references containing age restriction warnings and only a minority had clearly visible responsible drinking messages) and/or supporting diversionary community activities. However, this current model of self-regulation is failing to protect the Scottish nation from harmful alcohol sponsorship in sports.
The Scottish Government should introduce legislation which prohibits alcohol sponsorship of professional sport.