June, 2014

Banning alcohol sponsorship of sport is not just supported by the evidence, it is the right thing to do

Read Alcohol Action Ireland’s submission the “Working Group on Regulating Sponsorship by Alcohol Companies of Major Sporting Events”.

This is the submission overview:

Alcohol sponsorship of sport is the keystone for a wide range of alcohol marketing activity in Ireland.

An array of marketing activities are used to leverage the link between alcohol, sports and elite athletes, which ultimately drives consumption of alcohol. Advertising “activates” the sports sponsorship to increase sales.

A ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport would decelerate the relentless promotion of alcohol in Ireland and diminish the overall potency of alcohol advertising, thereby reducing alcohol consumption.

The purpose of marketing is to create a need or desire for a product. Alcohol is not a staple, it is not a necessary purchase, therefore a market must be created for it – and new drinkers must be recruited to create and expand that market.

While the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) claims that “there is no link between sponsorship and alcohol consumption”, Diageo, sponsor of Irish rugby and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), attributes sales increases directly to sports sponsorship activity in its most recent annual report and Carlsberg, sponsor of the FAI, in its most recent annual report, says that “ultimately, sponsorships are about growing our business and driving the long-term sales of our beer brands”.

There is clearly one message for policymakers and another for shareholders, but it is the latter whose interests the alcohol industry is working for and protecting. Our legislators must do the same for the public health.

To suggest that sports sponsorship is not linked to sales of alcohol or has no influence on the beliefs and drinking behaviour of Irish people, particularly children and young people, not only lacks evidence and credibility, it also flies in the face of logic and common sense.

Alcohol sponsorship of sport works in terms of increasing sales and, as a result, alcohol consumption. If it didn’t, the alcohol industry simply would not spend so much money on it.

Pairing a healthy activity, such as sport, with an unhealthy product, such as alcohol, makes that product seem less unhealthy and more acceptable and normal. It creates a culture where children and young people perceive alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life and see it as something associated with having fun and sporting success.

It is entirely contradictory that a society with the second highest level of binge drinking in the world and where three people die every day from an alcohol-related illness is supine with regard to this aspect of alcohol promotion.

The Cabinet has endorsed the Healthy Ireland strategy, which stresses the need “to ensure that health is an integral part of all relevant policy areas, including environment, social and economic policies” – capitulating to the alcohol industry on the issue of alcohol sponsorship of sport completely undermines the credibility of this endorsement and the strategy itself.

The legal age for purchasing alcohol is 18 for very good reasons. Alcohol use is a serious risk to children and young people’s health and well-being, due largely to the fact that they are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol than adults as their bodies and brains are still developing.

There is nothing to be gained by blaming children and young people, who are, in many ways, a product of their environment when it comes to alcohol consumption. We have allowed an environment to be created for them that is saturated with alcohol, particularly with regard to the healthiest of activities they can enjoy, such as sport.

It is vital that we legislate comprehensively to regulate the promotion of alcohol including a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport, which is a powerful and sophisticated influence on young people’s drinking behaviour and expectations, increasing the likelihood that they will start to use alcohol at an earlier age and to drink more if they are already using alcohol.

It is not just supported by the evidence, it is the right thing to do.