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Raise a glass to healthier way of enjoying sport

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: October 19, 2012

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SPORTS fans live for the highlights — for the hard-won victories, the sweet goal kicks, for the charismatic star players and the post-game dissection with the lads down the pub.

But as Gavin Henson and Andy Powell fans will attest, there isn't a more tragic trajectory than that of a great athlete brought down to earth by his own daft behaviour.

And a campaign by Alcohol Concern Cymru, backed by a squad of Welsh sporting luminaries, is encouraging players and fans alike to keep an eye on their drinking.

The well-timed advice comes ahead of the autumn rugby internationals, with people likely to hit the sauce for long hours on match days.

They are also focusing on people who turn out for amateur sports teams across Wales, in the Don't Let Booze Ruin The Result campaign, as their research shows that 78 per cent of amateur sports players in Wales have hit the changing rooms on a hangover.

Those kind of high jinx aren't heroic, says Paul Thorburn, former Welsh rugby international.

"Traditionally there has always been a place for alcohol in sport, whether as a spectator who might drink before, during and after a game, or a player who celebrates a win after a competition.

"Sport has always been recognised as a great medium to interact and engage with people, and throughout my career in professional rugby, where I have had many enjoyable years, I have seen the close association between alcohol and sport.

He says it is by no means solely a Welsh or a British phenomenon, to see the act of excessive drinking as a sport in itself.

"I was an international player and if you go to Australia and New Zealand you see a very similar culture. I saw the All Blacks, the most respected national side, drinking beer after the game in 1987. It happened everywhere, and it is part of sport," he says.

But too much heavy celebrating can scupper the most promising career and waste years of dedicated training.

Gavin Henson's sacking from Cardiff Blues after he admitting drinking on an aeroplane at 7am following his team's defeat at Glasgow, felt like it was a long time coming.

Sadly he wasn't alone. Think back to the embarrassing photo of former Osprey Mike Phillips, face down on a Cardiff pavement after being restrained by McDonald's doormen.

And Andy Powell's episode with a golf buggy might have raised a smile but it didn't do his career any favours.

"We have to make sure, however, that enjoyment in alcohol by both participants and spectators is in moderation, and does not break the boundaries of good social interaction, friendship, fun and health," says Paul.

Toasting victory or drowning your sorrows in a brew is natural.

In fact an Alcohol Concern Cymru survey found that 85 per cent of Welsh sports fans crack open a drink every time they watch their favourite sport.

But the charity's Andrew Misell says: "We want to challenge the idea that sport and alcohol have to go together — whether we're watching sport at the ground, in the pub, or on the sofa; or if we're taking part on the pitch or socialising with teammates afterwards.

"For many of us, cheering on our favourite team is often accompanied by a few drinks, but when you're watching an afternoon's sport it's easy to overdo it.

"As well as a sore head in the morning, too much booze can leave you struggling to remember great sporting moments, as well wishing you could forget your own drunken behaviour."

As well as encouraging fans to think about whether they'd enjoy the game more with less alcohol, Alcohol Concern is urging local sports clubs and players to pledge not to let booze ruin the result for themselves and the rest of the team.

"For those of us who play sport, alcohol can be a big part of the social life of our local club or team. While enjoying a few drinks the night before a match or celebrating a win with teammates can feel like an ideal way to relax and unwind, overdoing it can ruin the result for you and your team, leaving you tired, dehydrated and performing well below your best."

Every local team or club that signs up to the campaign will receive a pack containing branded water bottles, plus posters and facts and tips on how to enjoy a drink without letting the side down. They will also be entered into a prize draw for a chance to win a coaching session for their team with a top Welsh coach.

Welsh athlete Jamie Baulch, said if you want to perform like a top athlete drinking to excess just doesn't make good sense.

"I'm used to working hard to ensure that I'm as fit as possible to compete at the highest level.

"I'd say anyone who's serious about their sport needs to consider whether cutting down on drinking could drive up their game.

"We've become used to seeing how alcohol and sport are paired together through marketing and club sponsorship. In reality sport and alcohol are not always a good match, and if you want to enjoy playing sport, low alcohol is often the key to high performance."

If you would like to pledge not to let booze ruin the result, email sport@drinkwisewales.org.uk, visit the website www.drinkwisewales.org.uk , follow us on Twitter @drinkwisewales or like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/dwwales

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