Sports stars aren't role models
When it comes to alcohol, university
students are more influenced by their
friends than by sports stars.
Image: iStockphoto

Despite concerns that high-profile sportspeople are bad role models; new research has found that the behaviours of some of our sports stars have little bearing on Australian binge-drinking culture.

Researchers from the University of Western Sydney and University of Manchester (UK) have conducted surveys of more than 1000 university students in Australia.

The results of the surveys indicate that the alcohol-induced misdemeanors of some of our sporting heroes have little influence on the drinking behaviours of young people.

Professor Gregory Kolt, from the School of Biomedical and Health Sciences at UWS, says sports stars are often touted as negative role models when it comes to drinking.

"Contrary to expectations, the research shows that young people don't appear to be influenced by the drinking habits of high-profile sportspeople," says Professor Kolt.

"The research has in fact found that, the more alcohol young people perceive sports stars to drink, the less alcohol they actually drink themselves."

The UWS and University of Manchester study found that young people: do not perceive high-profile sportspeople to be heavy drinkers; believe that sports stars drink significantly less alcohol than themselves, and that their own friends drink considerably more; and are strongly influenced by their friends' levels of drinking and by the drinking habits that they perceive to be 'normal' - such as the sport-specific cultural habit of drinking with competitors after games.

Dr Kerry O'Brien, from the University of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences, was the lead researcher in the study.

He says sport administrators are very quick to condemn and punish individual sports stars for acting as poor role models when they are caught displaying drunken and loutish behaviour.

However, it is much more likely that drinking behaviour of sports fans is influenced by marketing tools within the alcohol industry, such as through sponsorship deals.

"We are not suggesting that sports stars should not be encouraged to drink responsibly but it's disingenuous to place the blame solely on them for setting the bad example," says Dr O'Brien.

"It is time that sport administrators consider their own social responsibilities when weighing up the costs and benefits of using their sports and sport stars to market alcohol on behalf of the alcohol industry."

The results of the research are published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal.

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.