‘One in all in’ – sport, culture and alcohol

  Sporting Compass: With Dr Pippa Grange and Paul Oliver

Dr Pippa GrangePaul Oliver

As a sports psychologist and founder of Bluestone Edge, I am fortunate to have many conversations with people about the substance and meaning of sport.
My colleague Paul Oliver also engages with people at all levels across the sporting sector to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest news, views and issues.

In this space each fortnight, we will share some of these stories, insights and possibilities in relation to people, culture, ethics and leadership in sport. I hope you enjoy the conversation and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

All the best, Pippa and Paul


‘One in all in’ – sport, culture and alcohol

9 September 2013
Category:   CULTURE – what’s the story?

It’s Monday; for some people in sport it will involve ‘madness’ in the form of drinking many beers, being silly, dressing up and releasing the pressure valve built up over a season of physical and social compromises as athletes (and administrators). This is the time when athletes can feel they get to be like everyone else their age and let loose without concerns of skinfold measures, hydration, tomorrow’s training or next weekend’s game. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. We each have traditions that mark relevant moments in time, beginnings and ends, successes and failures, and in Australia many such markers involve drinking alcohol. Again, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that; it’s not illegal, it’s not immoral (for the majority), and in theory, it is far from anti-social. Each and every person has the moral right to get absolutely blind drunk should they choose. Whether or not this is a great idea is another topic….

But here is where the ‘rights’ argument comes unstuck for me. Nothing about a person’s youth, maturity, profession, experience of pressure, emotional volatility, or imposed standing as a role model or a rebel gives license to breech community standards. Community standards are shared by each of us in our society – I have to buy in, you have to buy in. The expectations of citizenship are the same for everyone; there is no ‘King’s Pass’.

Arguably, the expectation on people in visible public roles is heightened, because those roles often represent ‘the best of us’: the most talented, the most worthy, the most capable or the most skilled. This applies to sports people as much as say the military for example. People vest confidence and good faith, reliance, admiration and trust in sports people, and I argue that this creates something like a fiduciary duty between sport and sports lovers. There is an ethical relationship of trust between sport and sports lovers, and drunk or not, a sports’ person is expected to ‘honour’ that trust, and ‘respect’ other people’s assets (including the clubs’ or the games’ or the venues’ that they socialize in) and not put their own personal interests before this standard of care. When things go wrong on Mad Monday, it is almost inevitable that someone’s personal interests were prioritized higher than community standards. Someone said ‘so what?’

I think Mad Monday is an old school ritual and it is clear to most that the planning of several days of hardcore drinking is fairly likely to end in tears somewhere along the line. But I don’t think it is ‘wrong’ per se, just very high risk and in some cases, dumb. And I don’t think the solution to alcohol-related issues in sport can be outsourced to one group alone – not athletes, not governing bodies, not clubs, not brewers and not law and policy makers. Each of these groups is charged with leadership. Each of these groups contributes to the culture of sport in relation to alcohol. We talk with our clients about culture being ‘sandwiched’ between the systems that perpetuate it and the leadership that drives it, and so perhaps the way forward here solution lies in three things: first, creating whole-of-sport systems that will consistently underpin behaviors around alcohol; second, having leaders genuinely and vigorously drive change, preferably together, and; third, making sure that the story of alcohol in Australian sport is intentionally and publicly re-authored until the brand of sport and the desired culture of sport reflect each other well.

As I stood on the boundary line at the MCG yesterday watching the teams warm up for an elimination final in the AFL with the responsible use of alcohol TV ads blaring in the background on the big screen, I felt quietly confident that the leaders of the sports we love so much can orient themselves back to task of representing the best of us.

Dr Pippa Grange



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