Failure to ban alcohol sponsorship in sport an “own goal”

From the Irish Examiner

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Government would be scoring a “policy own goal” if it fails to ban alcohol companies from sponsoring sport.

By Mary Regan, Political Correspondent

Alcohol Action Ireland has disputed claims by Leo Varadkar, the sports minister, who said there is “no evidence to show that a ban on sponsorship would be effective in terms of reducing alcohol consumption among youths.”

The Cabinet is due to sign off on an action plan to tackle alcohol misuse, which is expected to restrict marketing of drink companies at cultural and sporting events.

The minister has proposed a voluntary system whereby sports clubs, teams, or organisations can opt-out of a sponsorship arrangement with a drinks company.

They would, in turn, be compensated by the Department of Health, under Mr Varadkar’s proposal, meaning his department would not have to replace the €30m of funding that currently comes from the drinks industry.

Mr Varadkar said that economic difficulties have meant Government investment in sport has been reduced. “The imposition of a ban on sponsorship would further undermine the efforts of sporting organisations to be self-sufficient,” he said.

However, Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland said: “The argument that we need the alcohol industry to sponsor sports so that young people will participate and reduce their drinking is a policy own goal.”

She said the industry sponsors sports not as an exercise in corporate philanthropy, but to increase sales “by encouraging current drinkers to buy more or by recruiting new customers, and new means young”.

Mr Varadkar is insisting a ban would not influence underage drinking and that binge drinking is on the rise in France where strict advertising guidelines are in place.

He pointed to research which showed binge drinking among 15- and 16-year-olds in France had risen by 11% to 44%.

The minister said that in comparison, the number of 15- and 16-year-olds binge drinking in Ireland has dropped by 17% to 40%.

Ms Ryan said there was other sources of research to show the link between marketing and the drinking habits of young people.

She said alcohol should not be associated with sporting success “in a country where so many young people, including young men who are the predominant target of sports sponsorship, experience significant harms from alcohol”.