There is great cultural irony in sports fans commenting on the prowess of professional athletes while holding a beer, academic Lawrence Wenner wrote 30 years ago.

From champagne stage parties to locker room shenanigans and sports bars, alcohol, sports — and a certain interpretation of masculinity — have long been commodified together as a tripartite, co-dependent culture.

FIFA announced the alcohol decision on Saturday are no longer available in stadiums hosting Qatar World Cup 2022 matches. It will still be available in Qatar during the tournament, but not as ubiquitous as in previous tournaments.

But where are the roots of this cohesion? How did the sports world begin to revolve around alcohol?

It all goes back at least as far as the Romans, says Professor Steve Jackson of New Zealand’s Otago University.

“They provided bread and circuses — including wine and various types of alcohol — to appease the citizens and ease social unrest,” Jackson told Al Jazeera.

More recently, advertisers in the United States quickly realized the power of identifying their product with a sports team in the early days of popular radio. Regional brewers would sponsor local baseball teams in hopes of building crossover loyalty, associating fan loyalty and behavior with loyalty to the local beer that “brought you the game”.

Sports, beer, and masculinity form a systematically naturalized “holy trinity,” Jackson says, as they interact with the market and a broader drawing of gender in contemporary culture.

While many elite sports have traditionally found men as their primary participants and supporters, it is a long-running trope that what is now often referred to as “toxic masculinity” has made it difficult for men to openly discuss personal matters, emotions or mental health. .

“[Beer] facilitates interaction between men, and increasingly women as well,” Paul Widdop, an academic on the geopolitical economics of sport at the University of Manchester, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s part of sports culture, a culture created by generations of fans interacting with each other with a symbolic bond – not just with beer brands – but also with pubs. That’s why most Victorian football pitches are next to pubs.”

In that sense, alcohol acts as a social lubricant.

Beer money

The marketing of sports and alcohol is the crucible in which this relationship is forged. The 30 leading alcoholic beverage brands spend more than $760 million each year on more than 280 active deals to sponsor the sports industry’s biggest leagues, clubs and athletes, according to sports market research firm Sportcal.

Heineken, which spends more than $118.3 million annually on sports sponsorships, currently has 25 active deals, including an annual $21.4 million deal with Formula 1 and a $10 million deal with Major League Soccer. Bud Light’s annual NFL sponsorship of $230 million, out of total sports spending of $249.7 million, makes it the largest publisher of sports advertising in the industry.

A study of the 2020 Rugby Six Nations Championship revealed an alcohol reference every 12 seconds on average during each game. The vast majority of these related to the main sponsor of the event – Guinness. In Ethiopia, where alcohol advertising is banned, a study of televised English Premier League football matches, an average of 10.8 minutes showed some form of alcohol advertising on screen – of a 90-minute match.

Since football is the most popular sport in the world, it is also the most attacked by alcohol brands. About 49 percent of all active alcohol sponsorship deals revolve around football. Of these, 59 percent are aimed at European consumers. The next largest market is North America, with 20 percent.

What does that mean in real terms?

As England prepared to meet Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-final, tax collectors prepared to pour an expected 10 million pints on match day, the British Beer and Pub Association estimated. The economist reported that some 50,000 drinks would be bought every minute during the match itself.

Excessive consumption is associated with violent behavior. Alcohol is also an established link between sports performance and abuse. Domestic violence cases rise 38 percent when England lose a football match, a 2014 Lancaster University study reported.

They peak at 26 percent if they win or tie.

Euro 2016 England fan zone
Domestic violence peaks in the hours after England play a football match, a 2014 study found [Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Rooted grassroots drinking culture

But it’s not just the major television leagues where alcohol is ubiquitous. Grassroots sports clubs are often at the heart of communities around the world, managing youth and senior teams, while the clubhouse provides a largely self-regulated social space, usually with a bar that provides a necessary revenue stream to keep the club running.

“Here, sports culture and its combination with the culture of beer and drinking has become naturalized,” says Wenner. “[It] becomes a sign or code of acceptable masculinity, indicating that you are a ‘real man’ rather than someone who is ‘opted out’, allowing his masculinity to be questioned. So it’s an embedded exercise in socialization of what it means to be a man – a man, of course, under the terms of ‘the good old days’ when ‘men were men’. I ideally call this kind of masculinity ‘vestigial hypermasculinity’.”

While the culture of sport and alcohol has undoubtedly had an effect on the development of male identity in the 20th and 21st centuries, its proponents argue that many opportunities for people to exercise would not exist if income from alcohol sponsorship and – sales had not been made. .

Estimates have suggested that in the UK alone, 300 million British pounds ($350 million) comes from sports alcohol sponsorship, which accounts for about 12 percent of the country’s total sports sponsorship. Of that, about 50 million pounds ($60 million) goes directly to grassroots sports. This creates investment in facilities, stadiums, player development, regional structures and tournaments, notes the Portman Group, an alcohol industry trade group that promotes responsible drinking and aims to protect children from alcohol marketing.

“Our code prevents sponsorship marketing activities from suggesting that it is acceptable to consume alcohol before or during exercise,” CEO Matt Lambert told Al Jazeera. “Around a tenth of UK sports sponsorship comes from alcohol – and that supports a healthy, balanced lifestyle by helping grassroots sporting and cultural events. Sponsorship makes activities more accessible through funding for equipment and facilities to develop amateur and professional sports through partnerships.

‘beer washing’

Even if it were desired, is it too late now to separate sports and booze?

There may be health and social reasons for doing this, but the most powerful catalyst for change will always be the will of the markets. If there is money to be made, the culture can change. And as sports franchises look to expand their global reach into new geographic markets, so do their sponsors. Bahrain’s Formula 1 parties, for example, feature sparkling grape juice.

To the innocent eyes, it looks the same as a champagne party anywhere in the world.

The alcohol industry’s solution to reaching consumers in Muslim- or Muslim-majority countries is not to disconnect drinking culture from sports, but to replace a locally acceptable variety, Jackson says: to sportswashing – in which they try to find a balance. So it shouldn’t surprise us that they’re going to introduce non-alcoholic drinks.

“It could open up a space where male consumers in these countries can then legally, ethically, participate in this culture of sports drinking – and then they become part of exactly what Budweiser and all the big companies want. It’s beer washing.’

Similarly, with the growing popularity of women’s sports, advertisers seem understandably reluctant to break a profitable association and adapt instead, showing more women in alcohol advertising – as consumers rather than commodities, which has been a hallmark of historic alcohol advertising.

“The FIFA Women’s World Cup is here in New Zealand and Australia next year, and the alcohol industry wants to monetize it,” says Jackson. “And often it’s not just beer [targeted at women]it is strong drink.”

Professor Catherine Palmer, from Northumbria University, outlines an emerging research agenda for defining the relationship between women, sport and alcohol as a feminist issue, noting that framing women’s relationships with alcohol has consistently been portrayed as problematic, in compared to men’s consumption.

Sports-related drinking is just as pleasurable and problematic for women as it is for men, she says wrote in 2019.

There seems to be no end to the age-old shared culture of alcohol and sports for the time being. With no alternative sports funding identified, alcohol sponsorship will continue to play a large role in grassroots and elite clubs and leagues. But the culture is changing and expanding, especially if there is a profit motive.

And as the worlds of alcohol and sports both continue to adapt to reach non-traditional markets, we can still see a profit in inclusiveness and a disconnection from the culture’s more “toxic” and violent elements.

And that’s something to raise a glass to.

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