Young water polo players are among the first to benefit from the ACT Government’s new Gamechangers initiative which is encouraging healthier sponsorship opportunities for junior sporting clubs.
The Gungahlin Dragons Water Polo Club has said “no thank you” to unhealthy fast food sponsorship, instead accepting support from plumbing business, Water Tight Canberra.
Dragons vice president Andrea Sansom says the club jumped at the opportunity to be part of the Healthier Choices Canberra: Junior Sport program, taking a “pledge” towards creating a healthier sporting environment.
“The Gamechangers initiative provided us with another way to ensure we were growing a positive culture for the club,” she says.
“Our pledge primarily focuses on ensuring athletes make healthy choices – especially encouraging water consumption.
“We play a water sport but this gives us an opportunity to further educate junior athletes and less experienced club members about the importance of remaining hydrated during training and matches.”
The Water Tight sponsorship money will provide a new set of playing caps and water bottle carriers to be used at each game.
“We are providing all new players with a Dragons water bottle to encourage water consumption,” Andrea says. “All the junior players know they need to bring a water bottle to training and games – just like they need to wear their uniform, they need a water bottle.”
Sport is a big part of Canberra’s culture and sponsorship has the potential to influence more than 50,000 children who play organised sport outside of school.
This makes junior players an attractive target for companies that invest heavily in marketing junk food to children.
Gamechangers aims to shake things up by encouraging local junior sporting clubs to build relationships with businesses such as Water Tight, which shares the same values for healthy, happy kids in sport.
Non-food businesses are being invited to be part of the change.
Andrea says seeing sponsor logos on social media, uniforms, kit bins and water polo caps reinforces the club’s mantra that healthy eating is a way of life and not just something before the season starts.
“Children experience advertising in many forms in their daily lives and we think it is important to have positive messages and sponsors who actively support these messages around them when they play and train,” she says.
“We are also incorporating healthier options at club events such as providing wholemeal bread, water and fruit, and we have included a range of educational information on our website for players and parents.”
Water Tight owner Tom Martin is one of the first sponsors to sign up for the program and says he’s pleased to be influencing children in a positive way.
“All our staff have been on a bit of a health kick over the last two years, eating healthier and exercising more during lockdown. So when I heard about Gamechangers, I thought it would be a good fit for what we’re doing,” he says.
“I’ve got a couple of young kids myself, and I certainly want them to be making healthy choices.”
Studies show marketing of fast-food products has a direct effect on children’s food preferences, nutritional knowledge, and purchase behaviour. Similarly, child and adolescent exposure to alcohol marketing has been found to be associated with earlier onset of alcohol use and higher consumption.
The ACT Government has identified that minimising children’s exposure to fast food and alcohol marketing is fundamental to reducing behavioural risks that contribute to obesity and alcohol-related harm.
Findings from a 2016 consultation showed marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children was considered an issue by the ACT community.
Gamechangers aims to form win-win partnerships by generating greater awareness within the Canberra business community about the benefits of sponsoring junior sporting clubs.
Whether it’s helping with the purchase of equipment, providing in-kind support or sponsoring an event, businesses will contribute to the health and wellbeing of children in Canberra, and have access to a market that can grow their business and develop brand loyalty.
Eligible businesses and sporting organisations can register for Gamechangers and Healthier Choices Canberra will ‘match’ sponsors to junior clubs.