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New research presented to the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) Conference today has found that preventative measures related to alcohol use, event management and media behaviour could help avoid the disorder brought about by the Undie 500 event in Dunedin.
The theme of the conference is ‘Time for Action’, with a focus on working together to create sustainable changes in the way New Zealanders think about and use alcohol.
University of Otago researcher Maria Stubbe presented the findings of Driving them to drink – An exploratory case study of alcohol-fuelled student events. The research was the initiative of visiting Professor Barry Jackson, inspired by changes in student events that had been achieved at his University in Pennsylvania.
The research was sparked by the widespread media attention following the Undie 500 student-organised car rally from Christchurch to Dunedin.
The case study explored stakeholder and media perspectives on the Undie 500 car rallies of 2008 and 2009, including an analysis of media coverage from prominent media agencies such as TVNZ, the Otago Daily Times,the New Zealand Herald and one blog site.
Maria says there were some unexpected findings.
“Last year, simultaneous events were held in Dunedin at the time of the Undie 500 Rally. While the rally itself was well organised and went according to plan, unrelated and unplanned events resulted in alcohol-fuelled disruption on the streets of Dunedin.
“The media portrayed the unorganised alcohol-fuelled events in Dunedin as being part of Undie 500 – despite the fact that some of this disruptive behaviour had preceded the arrival of the rally cars.
“It is acknowledged that tertiary students are an ‘at risk’ population for alcohol misuse. However, non-students were also involved in the disturbance – a point which was largely overlooked in the media reports.”
The researchers found that negative publicity overshadowed the positive efforts of the Canterbury engineering students who had organised Undie 500.
“These engineering students - who will be designing our hospitals, bridges, and homes in the future - had planned carefully and prepared the cars well and students had driven responsibly, but that did not feature in the media reports.”
Maria believes that there are a number of ways to avoid similar issues during large-scale student events in the future.
“There are ways to reduce the negative outcomes of drinking and making student-organised events like Undie 500 positive examples of student fun.
“Proposed changes to the sale and marketing of alcohol to young people will undoubtedly help, but the research suggested that it will also be helpful to look at ways of managing student events in the future to avoid potential problems such as the situational drinking and disruptive behaviours seen in Dunedin. For example, our informants suggested that if there had been other organised activities such as music or arts events those could have dispersed the crowds across the city.
“The media could also assist by adjusting its focus to celebrate the positives of events and student culture in the future.”