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The NRL has been awarded the Good Sports Leadership Award by the Australian Drug Foundation for its commitment to improving the code's drinking culture.

At a function at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday, the NRL became the first professional sporting body to be given the award.

NRL chief executive Dave Smith said he was proud that the organisation was receiving recognition for the work being done in this area.

"The game acknowledged some time ago that it needed to change its culture and it is doing so," Mr Smith said. "We will continue to face challenges but with the support of the Australian Drug Foundation, and processes which have helped us grow as a game, we will also continue to improve our culture.

"We have a commitment to our supporters and to everyone involved in our game that we will continue to build a positive image – not just on the field but off it as well."

The Australian Drug Foundation's CEO John Rogerson said the NRL had taken a preventive approach to reducing alcohol-related harm by building the skills and confidence of people working and volunteering throughout the League.

"The NRL has been investing in this process for the last four years. They have done the hardest part; they acknowledged they had a problem with their alcohol culture across the board, they've owned it, sought expert help and now have strategies and actions in place to better manage it – that's commendable," Mr Rogerson said.

"This is a significant milestone for the NRL as a whole. It's taken several years of hard work and they are committed to more work in the future. This isn't a quick-fix announcement; it's a genuine will to improve the code's relationship with alcohol."

Mr Rogerson said the Australian Drug Foundation, through the Good Sports program, works with more than 6,500 community clubs right across Australia to help them manage alcohol responsibly and create more family-friendly environments. 

The NRL Alcohol Management Strategy has so far seen all clubs:
•         develop and implement their own alcohol policies;
•         empower leaders within the NRL and NRL Clubs at all levels;
•         facilitate player and staff education and training from juniors to the professionals;
•         implement Australian Drug Foundation 'GoodHost' event management policies into events where alcohol is served.

Research conducted by Deakin University showed that there had been a 61 percent reduction in media reports which mention both alcohol and the NRL since the partnership with the Australian Drug Foundation was established.

The NRL's Education and Welfare Manager, Paul Heptonstall, said the organisation had worked hard over the past four years in conjunction with the ADF.

"The game realised it needed more expert guidance in terms of how to change the game's culture with respect to alcohol use," Mr Heptonstall said.

"In 2009, the NRL and the NRL Clubs opened the doors and gave the ADF full access to conduct an audit on the whole environment and make recommendations on what was considered the best practice in making cultural change.

"Minimum standards were agreed upon by the NRL and the 16 Club CEOs and for the last four years we have made a commitment to meet these standards.

"Importantly, change is happening and we are seeing some positive results.

"While we may never be immune to these kinds of community-based issues, this program means we can minimise these issues and also deal with them when they happen."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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