In My Opinion: Bill Heaney: Isn’t it time the ‘alcohol question’ was shown the ‘red card’?

NOW that the minimum price per unit proposal for alcohol has been kicked into touch, shouldn’t we in the media be taking a long, hard look in the mirror and asking ourselves how much we are to blame for the abuse of alcohol?

First up for a squint in the looking glass should be sportswriters and TV and radio commentators, especially since the Labour Party’s alcohol commission, chaired by Professor Sally Brown, wants the red card shown to the sponsorship of sporting events by drinks companies – and a total ban on alcohol advertising.

Sport and alcohol are inextricably mixed in a dangerous cocktail which has over the years led to murder, rioting in the street, serious assaults, soaring instances of domestic abuse, breach of the peace, drunk and incapable offences and people vomiting and urinating in the streets.

So why is it, then, when someone wins something, either as part of a team or as an individual, the first question sportswriters ask them is if they’ll be celebrating their triumph?

By “celebrating” the pundits clearly mean over-indulging in drink, which, to use another sporting metaphor, is par for the course in this country.

These are the same pundits, by the way, who frown darkly in print whenever a sportsman or woman does exactly what they anticipate they will do – gets themselves drunk.

Probably the most famous incident of over-indulgence by a sportsman in Scotland involved the late, great Celtic and Scotland player Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone setting sail down the Firth from the team’s Largs HQ in a rowing boat.

There was uproar at the time – but it soon became legendary and Jinky was given the “great wee guy” treatment by the usual suspects.

There have been many sad cases of this kind, particularly in football, but other sports, cricket and rugby for example, have not escaped the opprobrium of our sports writers when the celebrations have got out of hand. Does it never cross their minds that by their words they encouraged this behaviour in the first place?

Football genius Paul Gascoigne’s self-destruction through over-indulgence is pathetic, as was that of the Glasgow boxer Benny Lynch, the snooker player Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and two of soccer’s greatest stars – George Best and ‘Slim’ Jim Baxter.

When are we going to accept that drink and sport don’t mix? And when are we going to dispense with the hypocrisy of fizzing champagne bottles, strips emblazoned with beer and whisky branding and stadium hospitality suites?

Newspapers, TV and radio reporters would be doing us all a favour if they dropped the drink question. It has led to fans of all ages accepting that getting drunk is the thing to do whether their team wins or loses.

Less “celebrating” and “drowning of sorrows” would have a beneficial effect on the health and safety of the fans (and players) and reduce the many incidences of mayhem in public places, such as we saw in Manchester two years ago.

The minimum pricing motion from the SNP, thrown out by the Holyrood Health Committee the other day, will not become law under the present administration, but, be assured, Labour will look at this again when, as is widely predicted, they win the Scottish parliamentary elections next May.

If you believe it is unthinkable that sponsorship of sport and sporting personalities by drinks companies will be outlawed, then think again.

The now widely acclaimed smoking ban was met initially with utter disbelief. Professor Brown’s recommendations are sitting on the subs’ bench just waiting to come on to the pitch.

Meanwhile sports writers should give the celebration question its marching orders.

Bill Heaney is a former award-winning editor of the Lennox Herald and special adviser to First Minister, Henry McLeish. He was also for four years media adviser to the Rt Hon John McFall MP, chair of the Treasury Select Committee. Heaney is an Emeritus Editor of the Society of Editors (Scotland) and a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists. He is now a media consultant.