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The holy trinity of sport

“Sport is a universal language that brings peoples closer and can contribute to facilitating encounter and overcoming conflicts. I therefore encourage sport to be experienced as a school of virtue in the complete growth of individuals and communities,” Pope Francis said on April 6, the United Nations International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

There is without doubt much truth in these words, but the promotion of sport, and especially professional sport, is doing a lot of other things as well.

At the beginning of April, Hong Kong hosted arguably its highest profile major sporting event, the Hong Kong Sevens. Without doubt the on-field activity does promote the “variety of human virtues; harmony, loyalty, capacity for friendship and dialogue, and solidarity” that the pope speaks of.

It is a great weekend for rugby lovers, as well as those who just enjoy the fun, and provides a first class display of the best sport has to offer in an enjoyable and family-friendly atmosphere.

This year, the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will captivate the world and media bites that can get past the political and financial scandals will undoubtedly devote a few words to the lofty Olympic ideals.

But what else is being promoted? As Pope Francis also mentioned, professional sport is often marred by negative elements and it certainly does promote three things that plague societies around the world today—obesity, alcoholism and gambling.

A quick run around the stadium at the Sevens by a hungry soul discovers only a diet of fast food on-offer. The thirsty soul can drink water, but beyond that, highly sugared drinks. The other option is to join the beer swill.

A glance at the big screen will treat the eye to a succession of advertisements for both fast food and alcohol (although not exclusively). Because of oft’ criticised local laws gambling does not make the cut in Hong Kong, but a trip to the Internet can cover that loophole.

This is not a criticism of the organisers of the three-day festival, as they do act responsibly and succeed in producing a first class product, but they too are victim to a by-product of modern professional sport in their search for the much needed sponsorship dollar.

Sport is both an on and off the field event and professional sport is more off the field than on. The players display, by and large, the wonderful qualities that Pope Francis speaks of and the ideal the Olympics espouse.

But by far the biggest participation group is the spectators, both at the ground and in front of their television screens. And what’s the message—fast food—often promoted strongly by the superhuman heroes from the arena—alcohol and gambling.

The gentle caution to drink and gamble responsibly is barely a counter to the strong come-on and glamour attached to the product and, in fast food advertisements, it is not required.

The three-pronged barrage from the holy trinity of sport hardly contributes to addressing obesity, which is becoming a modern killer, alcohol abuse (problem drinkers are responsible for an extremely high percentage of consumption) or gambling.

Banning their advertising in sport will not solve the problem by itself, but it was done for cigarettes for reasons of public health, so why stop there? JiM