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State of Origin: Former league greats Steve Mortimer, Steve Ella call for end to alcohol sponsorship

ABC GrandstandABC Grandstand 1/06/2016

© Chris Hyde/Getty Images Former State of Origin greats Steve Mortimer and Steve Ella have called on rugby league to put an end to alcohol sponsorship of the sport.

As New South Wales and Queensland face off in the opening match of this year's State of Origin series, the advertisements of the teams' alcohol sponsors are hard to miss.

A recent edition of Sydney's Daily Telegraph ran a special State of Origin promotion offering free beer in NSW-blue cans.

Steve Mortimer, former NSW State of Origin captain, thinks it's the wrong approach.

"I've had a VB a couple of times or whatever, or a Tooheys New, but to put it into a blue form, I'd like to think that the NRL could come back and think, how can we do this in a better way rather than giving every person who bought a ticket a NSW-ified VB can or stubby?" he told 7.30.

"There needs to be more thinking of that — how they can assist their sponsor, should it be alcohol?"

The promotion was also a step too far for league legend and former NSW Origin centre Steve Ella.

He now works as a drug and alcohol counsellor for the Aboriginal community on the Central Coast.

"I was in Lismore at a rugby carnival last weekend and I'd heard and seen a lot of 13 and 14-year-old kids chasing the paper to try to get the vouchers so they can actually going get some free cans or get someone to get some free cans for them," he told 7.30.

"They were talking about how they could get hold of them."

"That to me was a major problem, where the target audience has been met and these young kids are starting to think that it's okay to go and collect alcohol."

Ella said the NRL should be realistic about what the sponsors are doing.

"The alcohol companies don't really care about the NRL or the sport, all they care about is getting their brand out there," he said.

Banning alcohol sponsorship in sport was one of the proposals put forward today by health provider, St Vincent's Health Australia.

It also proposed adopting higher alcohol taxes and introducing nationwide lockout laws to reduce the harm caused by excessive drinking.

It is urging the major political parties to adopt the measures as part of a plan to reduce alcohol-related harm by 20 per cent by 2025.

"We've got to switch off from this thing that says sport is about alcohol, winning is about alcohol. It's not," St Vincent's CEO Toby Hall told 7.30.

Steve Ella agrees.

"I think advertising should be banned at all sporting events," he said.

"You shouldn't associate sport and alcohol, and success with alcohol."

Eighty thousand fans will see tonight's game at Sydney's Olympic Stadium, with more than 1 million expected to watch the telecast, absorbing the message that drinking alcohol is as healthy and wholesome as their sport.

"We've got kids now looking and admiring NSW and Queensland State or Origin players and watching them and pretending to be them," Steve Mortimer said.

"When it comes to alcohol and the game, too, there are a lot of people who are going to have too much and that can be a problem."

Steve Ella said there was a precedent to severing ties with a particular group of sponsors.

"Sport had sponsorship of tobacco companies in the early days and they said when they took that away the sport was going to fall apart without the tobacco companies' sponsorship," he said.

"That hasn't happened, and I'm sure if the NRL didn't have alcohol sponsorship I'm sure they wouldn't fall apart either.

"I think the NRL are out of touch with community expectations.

"The majority of the community don't want alcohol advertising in sport."

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