TWO years ago, Melrose Sevens hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when an alcohol-fuelled gang fight involving youths from Galashiels and Kelso terrified townsfolk and visitors.
The violent fracas, involving around a dozen thugs, took place in High Street in the late afternoon and ended up with a police officer who tried to break up the altercation receiving hospital treatment for a head injury.
Since then, agencies in the Borders, including the police, Scottish Borders Council and the Alcohol and Drug Partnership of NHS Borders have been working closely together to highlight and combat incidents of violence and antisocial behaviour which have excessive consumption of alcohol at their roots.
And on the eve of the 122nd Melrose tournament, which is expected to attract a crowd of 12,000 to the Greenyards on Saturday, they have joined forces to issue a public appeal under the heading: “Getting drunk is not a pre-requisite of having a good time”.
Although the message is ostensibly aimed at Borderers attending all sevens tournaments along with local common ridings and festivals, its timing would suggest a special plea for moderation ahead of the region’s largest single sporting event at the home of the abbreviated game.
“While the partner organisations want people to enjoy these annual events and have a good time, they are encouraging them to drink responsibly and consider the effects of drinking too much,” said a statement from the multi-agency group. “Excessive drinking impacts on the individual and on communities and a combination of interventions are required to reduce alcohol-related harm overall. House fires, violent incidents, drinking and driving, antisocial behaviour and underperformance at work are often linked to people who drink too much.
“The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 has undergone an overhaul of licensing arrangements and for the first time licensees are required to ensure they have a responsibility to consider the health of the population under the objective ‘protecting and improving public health’ specifically within any planning arrangements for events.
“Communities will be provided with information on how to drink more responsibly through posters which will be displayed within licensed premises during these events. Information on the risks of ‘legal highs’ and access to further supporting information on how to stay safe, will also be available.”
Paul Richardson from the Safer Communities Partnership at SBC told us: “Getting drunk should not be a pre-requisite to having a good time. We are tackling drug and alcohol problems at a local level involving the statutory, voluntary and private sectors, and engaging in the wider community. This is part of the Scottish Government’s Alcohol Strategy.”
Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, said: “Everyone by now is aware that bold action is needed to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. The impact of our consumption is estimated to cost Scots £3.56billion each year. That’s £900 for every adult.” Dr Eric Baijal, Joint Director of Public Health, added: “It is hard to understand how when we are celebrating the health and fitness of our local rugby players there is such a tendency to be irresponsible with alcohol.
“I urge the community to drink responsibly to ensure their immediate health and help improve their well-being in the future.”
And a spokesperson for Melrose RFC said: “The club is pleased to support the campaign for responsible drinking. The success of the Melrose Sevens relies in part on the goodwill and understanding of the local community and it’s important to us that our community remains safe.
“We hope that everyone enjoys this year’s tournament in a responsible way.”