Inaction on banning booze ads in sport 'deafening' - Sir Graham Lowe

Source: Q and A

Rugby league icon Sir Graham Lowe says he is "disillusioned" by the slow progress on kicking alcohol sponsorship out of professional sport.

Lowe has advocated for the change since he chaired a 2014 ministerial forum that called for a clampdown on the visibility of booze in sports.

The issue resurfaced after Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's alcohol reform private member's bill was selected for consideration. The proposed legislation is expected to be debated in Parliament later this month.

Speaking to Q+A, the rugby league legend criticised how few politicians had taken up the cause. Lowe said few had made a "tough call" to support change.

"Too many politicians think they're in there to win a popularity contest. They're there to put forward … tough decisions, and I don't think they've got the guts to do it."

On Wednesday, a 6000-signature petition was delivered to Parliament calling for MPs to support Swarbrick's alcohol law reform bill.

Lowe said the "huge amount of" sponsorship money from alcohol companies was "low-hanging fruit" to groups, but that professional sports ultimately could find money elsewhere.

A beer being poured (file picture).

"There'll be a bit of whinging and kicking things around, but they'll get over it, and they'll find sponsorship in the end," he said. "If an [alcohol] sponsorship was removed, the marketing teams can go out and hook sponsors from other areas."

Lowe said it was important that sporting organisations reflected on the role they might play in causing harm to children.

"You don't have to walk too far in the city of Auckland, in the evening, to see the harm that alcohol can have on young children - I'm talking about 11, 12, 13-year-old kids," he said.

"Everyone realises that this has to be faced at some stage. It's no different to cigarettes - and the challenge that was faced when they decided to shift cigarettes out of sport."

Swarbrick's proposed legislation would ban alcohol sponsorship and advertising in live sports and sports venues. It would also give local communities greater control over where liquor outlets can locate.

"I'm well aware of how important sponsorship is to sporting organisations … but that's what little kids watch.

"If we don't think that kids are going to start having brand loyalty, right from an early age, we're kidding ourselves," Lowe said.

He opined that his forum, which included public health experts and industry representatives, was ultimately ignored by the then-National Government.

"I was absolutely insulted by the lack of response from the Government - even if they didn't agree with what we wanted, I thought some would have had at least the decency or the courage to ring up," he said. "The noise from the Government coming back was deafening.

"I was so annoyed - I thought what a waste of time, it was an insult to me, it was an insult to the forum … What I came away with was that it's a tough subject that has to be faced by people with some guts."

Swarbrick's bill, the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Amendment Bill, is supported by the Greens and Te Pāti Māori on first reading - while opposed by National and ACT.

Labour MPs have been instructed to treat the bill as a conscience vote, with high-profile opposition from Sports Minister Grant Robertson.