Unhealthy food and drink sponsors were the most prevalent, sponsoring nearly 50 per cent of Australian peak sporting bodies, followed by alcohol and the gambling industry.
Rona Macniven of the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney said linking unhealthy brands with the positive aspects of sport significantly undermines the health benefits of sport and exposes children to negatively but influential messages.
“Associating these harmful products with the positive aspects of sport normalises associated activities such as gambling, drinking alcohol and consuming fast food and sugary drinks,” Ms Macniven said. “Our research revealed a pervasive level of unhealthy sponsorship across our sporting codes.”
“Cricket, both rugby codes, Australia Football, Basketball and Soccer all had sponsorship agreements across all three unhealthy categories – alcohol, fast food and sugary drinks, and gambling – with Cricket taking the prize for the overall highest proportion of unhealthy sponsors.”
The research, Unhealthy product sponsorship of Australian national and state sports organisations, assessed the nature and extent of unhealthy food and beverage, alcohol and gambling sponsorship across government funded Australian national, state and territory level sports bodies through a comprehensive audit of their websites.
But it wasn’t all bad news for Aussie sport with the research identifying 14 sports free from unhealthy product branding and “this shows it is possible for sports organisations to survive without relying on unhealthy and harmful sponsors.”
“We need to see this level of exposure to unhealthy messages through sport reduced – particularly among Australian children – through regulatory guidelines or policy to limit unhealthy sponsorship,” Ms Macniven said.
“Action is needed to raise awareness among athletes and the sport sector more broadly about the potential impacts of unhealthy sponsorship, and encourage them to take a strong stand against unhealthy sponsorship practice.”