How to tackle the drink link to sport? Just ask the French

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We know it as the Heineken Cup, but in France they call European rugby’s leading club competition the H Cup.

And when Liverpool FC played there in the Europa Cup some years ago, they had to wear shirts free of their then sponsor Carlsberg.

These are just two examples of the very strict anti-alcohol policies that have been in place in France for more than two decades.


While Irish people are used to drinks companies sponsoring a diverse range of sports, music festivals and arts events, as well as extensive alcohol-related advertising across the media, a whole new generation in France has grown up never seeing a single drinks ad or attending an event sponsored by a drinks company.

It’s thanks to Loi Evin (Evin’s Law – named after the then health minister Claude Evin) and it has been a feature of life in France since 1991. Advocates keen to curb binge-drinking in this country believe it is a model that we should adopt.

“It has had a huge impact on the consumption of alcohol in France,” says Dr Mick Loftus, the anti-drinks campaigner and a former president of the GAA. “In 1960, the average adult in France consumed 30 litres of alcohol. Today, that figure is down to 13.5 litres and it’s mainly thanks to Loi Evin.

“If you go to France now, you’ll rarely see the sort of drink-to-get-drunk culture that’s so prevalent here. There, there isn’t the same emphasis on consuming alcohol in order to have a good time that’s long been the case in Ireland. The fact that alcohol is not associated with fun events like music festivals and sport has helped shift the perception French people have with alcohol. Generally speaking, drinking alcohol is seen as something to do with food.”

The origins of the law are rooted in old French protectionist polices of curbing the promotion of “foreign” goods in order to give their indigenous products an advantage.

UK drinks firms took the fight to European courts in the 1970s and ’80s, and French lawmakers were eventually forced to level the playing field by also banning the promotion of home-grown alcohol companies.

The ruling continues to outrage the country’s wine industry. “They treat us as if we were making a dangerous product,” Burgundy winemaker Pascale Chicotot told The New York Times. “We are not terrorists. Wine is not a dangerous product. Wine is a noble thing.”

Yet, anti-alcoholism advocates in France believe it is this very restriction that is helping to reduce consumption across the board. Leading campaigner Dr Alain Rigaud says Loi Evin has had a significant positive impact: “The law has been efficient in correcting excesses in the form and the content of advertising messages and it is essential for the implementation of an overall and coherent preventative effort.”

Yet, he contends that it is still too soon to gauge its full consequences.

“The effectiveness of the law on younger generations will not be felt for several decades,” he says.

Despite the restrictions, there is evidence of growing alcohol misuse among teenagers in France since Evin Law was introduced. A recent survey there shows a rise of 17pc in this age group who said they had consumed five or more drinks in one session in the previous 30 days.

It’s a problem that is causing French authorities considerable disquiet, especially as the 2009 ruling that raised the legal purchase age from 16 to 18 does not appear to have had an impact.

Meanwhile, some lobbyists who favour the retention of alcohol’s relationship with sport, argue that sponsorship simply gives one brand a competitive advantage over another but does not influence consumption trends.

“We analysed consumption, sponsorship spend and disposable income per head in all the major markets,” said the authors of a report on behalf of the Sponsorship Today consultancy.

“There was a very clear correlation between consumption and disposable income, but no clear pattern regarding sponsorship spend and consumption.

“In Germany, for example, beer consumption per capita is among the highest in the world, but sports sponsorship spending is comparatively low, whereas in Portugal sponsorship spend is high, but consumption is low. The findings are not definitive proof of no impact, but they add to the body of research that suggests that sponsorship is not a major contributory factor in increasing alcohol consumption.”

Mick Loftus does not agree.

“If we want to protect the health of our young people, we need to have a blanket ban on all promotion of alcohol, including the sponsorship of sports event and we should look to France for a model. We simply won’t be serious as a nation about coming to terms with our alcohol problem until we do that.”