Alcohol sponsorship ban ‘not practical’

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A minister has said it was “not practical in the foreseeable future” to ban sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry.

Leo Varadker, the sport minister, said such a move would have a “negative impact” on sporting bodies, result in fewer people playing sport, and stop Ireland from hosting the Heineken Cup final next year.

He said a code of conduct might achieve more.

The statement is the latest twist in an apparent battle within the Coalition as to whether or not it will implement recommendations by an expert group.

The National Substance Misuse Strategy report called for sponsorship to be phased out by 2016.

Mr Varadker said he supported the central aim of the strategy to reduce alcohol consumption and binge drinking. But he added: “Ideally, we would like to reduce or remove drink sponsorship of sport by the alcohol industry as a very long-term objective. I don’t believe it is practical in the foreseeable future.

“It would have a negative impact on the finances of sporting organisations, and result in fewer people playing sport. It would make our participation in tournaments like the Heineken Cup very difficult, and Ireland would not be able to host the tournament’s final.”

He told Checkout magazine a “rigorously-enforced proper code of conduct might achieve more”.

Drugs strategy minister Roisin Shortall has told the Irish Examiner she was “confident” the Government would ban alcohol sponsorship, but said implementation could be “closer to 10 years”.

Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland said she was “disappointed” by Mr Vardaker’s comments.

“We know other countries, like France, have been able to deal with this issue,” she said. “This was under consideration by a government working group and was discussed by the steering group, which made a recommendation to phase it out by 2016. No one is taking about stopping it tomorrow.”

Ms Ryan said “alcohol sponsorship is alcohol advertising by another means”, adding: “If we are serious about reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol related harm, tackling advertising is one of the ways advocated by the World Health Organisation.”

A spokeswoman for the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland welcomed Mr Varadker’s comments.

She said the role alcohol manufacturers play in supporting major international and local community sporting and cultural events was “absolutely vital in the current economic climate”.

She said the industry operated under some of the most stringent codes of practice in the world.

“ABFI looks forward to working with the Government, state agencies, and sporting and cultural organisations on renewing and developing these codes for the foreseeable future,” said the spokeswoman.

Steering group member and public health expert Dr Joe Barry said it was a “pity” Mr Varadker, as a medical doctor, had these views.