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False message in a bottle: the hypocrisy of sport sponsorship

Saturday Serve

Australian cricket team captain Michael Clarke with a VB logo on his hat.

Australian cricket team captain Michael Clarke with a VB logo on his hat.

Convicted Drug Smuggler. National Sporting Icon.

Consider the different images those two labels conjure.

Schapelle Corby and Michael Clarke appear well suited to these respective tags - but what happens when we use different labels?

Australian bowler Fawad Ahmed, second from right, has declined to wear alcohol sponsorship on his shirt due to his religious beliefs.

Australian bowler Fawad Ahmed, second from right, has declined to wear alcohol sponsorship on his shirt due to his religious beliefs.

Let's call Corby a convicted smuggler of a substance less harmful than alcohol. Now let's rebrand Clarke to drug peddling millionaire.

It seems outrageous, right? But frankly, I've lost patience with our ignorant and narrow definition of drugs.

A drug is any substance which has a physiological effect when introduced into the body. Almost everything we ingest is, by definition, a drug.

NSW players in the State of Origin play with VB logos on their chests.

NSW players in the State of Origin play with VB logos on their chests. Photo: Anthony Johnson

In a 2010 study commissioned by the British Government, leading drug harm experts concluded that cannabis, the drug that Corby is convicted of smuggling, ranked well below alcohol in 16 measures of harm to the user and to wider society. These may be uncomfortable facts, but they are no less true for being so.

Recreational use of cannabis has been legalised in the American states of Colorado and Washington, and President Barack Obama recently stated: ''I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol.''

The late scientist Carl Sagan was more forthright in his assent of cannabis: ''The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilisation of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world."

Tobacco sponsorship in sports is now banned in Australia, yet alcohol remains as huge player in the sports sponsorship market.

Tobacco sponsorship in sports is now banned in Australia, yet alcohol remains as huge player in the sports sponsorship market.

Corby spent nine years in prison for smuggling a drug that is now legally obtained in a growing number of countries and is decriminalised in a great many more.

Last year Tasmanian man Phillip Kevin Baldock pleaded guilty to raping an 81-year-old women. Justice Alan Blow said the crime was ''horrific'' and required a substantial prison sentence. Baldock received a maximum nine years.

It's not my intention to pardon Corby. It is my intention to shed light on the irrationality which prevents useful discussion on the issue of drugs.

According to Channel Seven's David Koch, Corby's nine years of imprisonment isn't punishment enough. Koch said: ''I reckon we should have nothing to do with her as a network. Totally disagree with paying a convicted drug smuggler $2 million.''

This kind of hysteria appears farcical in light, of say, Victoria Bitter's alcohol sponsorship of the national cricket team, of which Clarke is the captain. When a drug is socially acceptable, it's apparently completely conscionable to promote it via the medium of professional sport.

Tobacco sponsorship of sport is now banned. But cigarette companies have been replaced by fast food empires and alcohol brands emblazoned across the chests of our sporting stars and broadcast into living rooms the world over.

The irony has become so glaring it's difficult to make eye contact with it.

Cardiovascular disease is the largest cause of death in the world and the number of overweight children in Australia has doubled in recent years.

It's clear that peddling junk food to children is a bad idea, made worse when it's their heroes doing the selling.

As a professional athlete, I'm aware that part of my livelihood is financed by sponsorships. Including sponsorships from the types of companies I've mentioned.

This makes me uncomfortable. More than that, it makes me angry.

If we lived in a libertarian society, I'd be hard pressed to find fault with almost any kind of sponsorship. Instead, we live in a time of enormous government intervention, eroding our liberty and limiting our choices.

Given this context, a little consistency isn't asking much.

It's food for thought that we socially accept some vices and not others.

Corby's case also illustrates the cultural moral relativism which has entrenched itself in our society. Instead of questioning the profound stupidity of drug laws in Australia and Bali, we allow Corby's label as a convicted drug smuggler to dictate our views. We consume facts rather than contemplate them.

Corby was convicted of a crime and, I have no reason to believe she was wrongly convicted. But only a morally confused society can bridge the immense distance between Corby's crime and her punishment.

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