Alcohol in Sport

The debate over whether professional athletes should be allowed to drink in excess is ongoing and has been brought to light in recent months after incidents involving Ben Stokes and Wayne Rooney.

The arguments for and against drinking are both credible and it comes down to a matter of opinion as to which you side with.

The main problem is that these athletes often portray a lifestyle that ‘dehumanises’ them; when they are then involved in an incident that is more associated with a bloke from down the local pub, it can seem far more shocking than it should. This is heightened when images and opinions spread like wildfire on social media in seconds.

The reaction of the public depends on 2 points: 1. The timing of the incident, and 2. The level of embarrassment

You have Ben Stokes achieving the worst combination in extremely poor timing (Pre-Ashes Tour, and during a One Day International Series), in an extremely disappointing and embarrassing incident.

Or you have someone like Peter Crouch, filmed dancing on a night out in the off season, which in a way, endears him to fans as they are more able to associate with his behaviour.

Drinking at the right time, in the right situation, with the right attitude is more often than not harmless; but when these high-profile athletes get it wrong, it can be career threatening.


Different sports and teams have different attitudes towards drinking

Sports like rugby have drinking ingrained into their culture and this often brings with it a more relaxed attitude. Players grow up watching their parents / peers have a drink after a match, and it is a social occasion where teams can go over incidents which happened in the game.  When managed well, like the current England squad, players seem to have a sensible attitude towards drinking because they know if they get it wrong, it could be their one and only chance. Poor management, advertised by England at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, will lead to disappointing results. Drinking is always more acceptable when you are winning.

English cricketers seem to have a love/hate relationship with alcohol. A lot of the press associated with the team and drinking in the past has been negative. There is no excuse for the recent misdemeanours of Ben Stokes, and the furore surrounding his selection will not help the England team this Winter – there should have been a definitive yes/no a long time ago.

When the players urinated on the pitch at the Oval following the Ashes series win in 2013, it was no doubt alcohol induced, and was the start of a remarkable downfall of the number one ranked team in the world.

Ben Stokes has tarnished his reputation with recent events, and in a way, this can be compared to the ‘Fredalo’ incident of the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Two players of similar ilk, getting themselves into unfortunate situations under the influence. Although damming at the time, I would argue that Flintoff’s incident has helped his post cricketing life. The disappointment of losing at that World Cup is long gone, and Flintoff now appears on shows like A League of Their Own, in part due to the fame he generated through such incidents. The only show Ben Stokes may appear on is Ringside.

Professional footballers are arguably under more scrutiny than any sportspeople on a day to day basis, meaning incidents involving alcohol are blown entirely out of proportion. For this reason, it is no surprise how rarely we ever see these famous faces worse for wear. There must be a fear that any misdemeanour will be recorded and shared, and so any fun they do have is behind closed doors – this is a shame.

Football is almost always ‘on’ as well and so time off is limited. Top players can be playing 3 times in a week for up to 40 weeks of the year – This would not be possible when combined with drinking in the modern-day game.

Again, it all boils down to behaviour. I can sympathise with Wayne Rooney when he stays up late after an international for a few too many drinks, but too many times he has been caught in situations which have damaged his reputation and change my perspective on him as a person. This cannot be blamed on the media.


Witness the Fitness

Fitness is a substantial factor in this debate. Phil Taylor can get away with a few pints the night before a World Championship final, whereas if Chris Froome was to spend the evening before the feared Alpe D’Huez climb in a local French bar until the early hours, there is unlikely to even be a secret package that could help him to the top.  Sufficed to say, the timing of consumption is irrelevant here; to be competitive, Chris Froome must remain in peak physical condition, which cannot be achieved alongside regular drinking. This clearly isn’t a worry for Phil the Power.

An ongoing argument in the world of golf surrounds fitness. In a game played at walking pace where your equipment is carried for you it seems unusual that players are now advised that time in the gym will improve their game. The only obvious benefit is length, but from experience,  I can tell you it is not all about that. I would say fitness in golf is more around health and well being rather than genuine strength.


Is it worth it?

A lot of the world that we live in accepts alcohol as a way of life. There are rarely times when it isn’t involved in a social situation, and it can be hard to avoid even when you want to.

As a professional sports person, there are certain sacrifices you may have to make to be the best you can be, and there are some who need to understand their position of responsibility far better than they do. Travelling the world doing what you love is a privilege, and is something I for one would trade in for a drink.

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