Is Lineker Right - Are Sports Too Close To Booze And Betting Brands?

I'm sure a lot of people will have shared my initial reaction to Gary Lineker's blast at alcohol and betting companies being too closely involved in sports sponsorship and advertising. Anyone who has sat on the sofa with their children watching a football game will know only too well how every other advert is from a booze brand and the transition in and out of an ad break is generally an invitation to get betting on the latest "in-game" odds.

So it's pretty easy to agree with the England football legend and host of Match of the Day that sport has potentially become too closely associated with booze and betting. You could take it a step further and extend that to fast food. McDonald's is a major football advertiser, and yet you wouldn't imagine their meals making it on the short list of most team dietitians' top nutritional tips. Same with World Cup sponsor Coca-Cola.

Look at today's youngsters seated next to parents watching the game and it isn't hard to imagine they will think it's completely normal behaviour to bet on sports events, and they're unlikely to share our generation's double-take when we see fast food and alcohol brands sponsoring teams, venues and competitions. I think we've all scratched our heads at McDonald's being so involved with football and Budweiser making a big fuss of its continued World Cup sponsorship. My team in the UK -- Chelsea --  is rare for being one of the few, alongside Liverpool, to have had a beer sponsor emblazoned on their kit a few years ago.

The thing with football, however, it's always been a two-sided affair -- players and spectators. Playing the game is a very different experience. You obviously wouldn't drink before a game, or place a bet on a match you were involved in or have a hamburger and fizzy drink to prepare. As a spectator, however, you're likely to do at least one or more of those things, some maybe all.

So, maybe Lineker has a point. Maybe there should be some curtailment, at least? Particularly for age-restricted products, such as betting and drinking alcohol? Only one over 18 product per ad break, perhaps?

Today we think nothing of cigarette sponsorship being banned from sports events internationally and barred completely from domestic television. So is it that much of a stretch to extend action in to gambling and boozing? We've already seen fast food adverts controlled on children's television, so would it be that much of a leap to see the same sentiment brought to bear around live broadcasts of sporting events.

I suspect the fast food companies are wondering the same. 

It's probably no coincidence that McDonald's has become so heavily involved in junior football in the UK, offering training sessions and more recently, free kits to selected teams. Coca-Cola also has its pledge to take to British parks to get a million people active by 2020. 

A good bit of corporate social responsibility or genuine attempts to help people out? You decide. And while you're at it, ask yourself if they're expecting to look good acting against a problem they share some responsibility for creating?

In the end, however, it will come down to a very simple thing. Parents will have to talk to their children about booze and gambling earlier on than previous generations had to.

As most families probably put a quid or two on the Grand National and are bound to enjoy the odd pint or a bottle of wine of an evening, we'll all need to remember that we speak louder to our kids in the way we act than in what we say. A total ban never works. A bit of what you fancy but everything in moderation is probably the advice I'll be giving and I wouldn't pre-suppose to tell you what you should say.

But do also remember that McDonald's sells carrot sticks for children and bottles of water. So before you prejudge, it's probably time for some honesty and taking of responsibility. 

The junior football team I coach will occasionally come back from a big tournament and have a burger and fries at McDonald's. It's an occasional treat after several hours of hard slog on the football pitch.

It's all about balance -- and Lineker should know that as the face of Walker's crisps, which, let's face it, are not exactly the food of champions but are pretty yummy on a picnic.

I wouldn't call for harsh controls on legal activities but adults need to strike a balance and they need to teach children moderation and the importance of personal responsibility.

No, if you're going to ban ads I think I'd have pay day loans way ahead of fast food, beer brands and betting shops. In moderation you can enjoy all of these but pay day loans, to my untrained eye, appear to be in the game of taking vulnerable people and charging them astronomical rates of interest until their next crisis arrives and they need to take out another loan.

Then there are the no win, no fee personal injury lawyers who probably solicit a few good cases but, we all know, are more about scaring companies and organisations in to settling out of court as well as taking improved public liability insurance. They'd be another one to ban, or at least curtail in some way, before you look to booze and betting which, though prone to abuse, can be enjoyed with moderation.

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