The Irish Sports Council, the IRFU and the GAA all announced last week their opposition to the proposed recommendation phasing out alcohol sponsorship of sports by 2016 – a key recommendation of the National Substance Misuse Strategy. They were the latest voices to speak out against the proposed ban – even before the strategy was launched, four senior Ministers had let their opposition be known.
The question now is – what are the odds of alcohol sponsorship of sports coming to an end, even a phased one?
What has been forgotten in the current debate is that the phasing out alcohol sports sponsorship has been under consideration since the time of the previous Government. A Government decision dated 22nd April 2008 agreed to the establishment of a working group to deliver on the commitment in the Programme for Government to: “Discuss the question of the sponsorship of sporting events by the alcohol industry with a view to phasing it out.”
Alcohol Action Ireland was on the working group and subsequent National Substance Misuse Strategy steering group.
Two opposing views emerged from the 2008 working group which can be summed up as: alcohol sponsorship of sports needs to end because of the human and financial costs and alcohol sponsorship of sports is just another way of advertising and selling alcohol. The other view was that due to the huge contribution sports provides to health and communities, that any reduction in revenue to sports would be detrimental and that sports in Ireland cannot do without alcohol money. Unsurprisingly, no agreement was reached between two diametrically opposing views.
The public health team, for want of a better term, based their assertions on the following:
· One in four deaths of men between the ages of 15 and 39 in Ireland is alcohol-related
· The World Health Organisation states that to reduced alcohol-related harm, alcohol consumption needs to reduce and key ways of doing this are: tackling pricing, availability, promotion ie marketing, of which sponsorship is a key element
· The aim of alcohol sponsorship is to sell more alcohol to those all ready drinking a product and to encourage those who are not drinking it to start
· Alcohol companies actively seek to secure the brand loyalty of the new, young consumers coming on stream every year since every marketer knows that it is easier to get someone who has no brand loyalty to adapt a new one than to get them to switch
· Alcohol companies sponsor sports specifically to gain access to lucrative, young, male markets
· By linking with an event through sponsorship, an alcohol brand can receive numerous mentions on television and radio apart from paid-for advertising, for example in sports bulletins and programmes, as well as general talk shows and news programmes
Four years later with the publication of the National Substance Misuse Strategy, the same views were expressed, except this time the sporting bodies were even more adamant that in a worsening economic climate and with budget cuts imminent forgoing alcohol money was even less of an option that it was previously. Meanwhile the majority of the Steering Group, with the exception of the representatives of alcohol industry and its social responsibility organization as well as representatives of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, supported the phasing out the sponsorship of sports by the alcohol industry on grounds that there was a conflict of interests.
After one Programme for Government recommendation, one working group and one steering group process, it is clear is that any decision in relation to sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry can and will only be decided by Government.