An Open Letter: What is the relationship between Sport Ireland and Diageo? Liberty Fields campaign.

Mr. Kieran Mulvey, Chairman, Sport Ireland.

Dear Mr Mulvey

I am writing to you in relation to the recently launched Diageo campaign ‘Liberty Fields’ which is being promoted by the Guinness brand to highlight the determination of pioneering women to overcome great adversity to advance their participation in rugby.

The endeavour of any campaign to advance women’s equal participation in sport is very important. In this respect, Sport Ireland efforts to encourage equal participation and advancement of women in sport is commendable. However, as you will know from your participation in past Oireachtas committee discussions on these matters, the commercial relationship between alcohol and sport is deeply problematic; fostering a relationship between alcohol and young players is concerning.

In Ireland, over 40% of 15-17 year old girls report having had an alcoholic drink in the last 30 days.[1]

Diageo have stated that faced with sales slowdown their brand objective is to “reframed for the next generation” through increased marketing around football and rugby alongside a greater focus on mobile marketing.[2]

It is our view that exploiting the potential capacity of young women to engage with their brand is important to their strategy; again Diageo have stated that: “Our current focus is to build as many of our brands as possible into unisex cultural icons.”[3] In Ireland women’s alcohol consumption is approximately half that of men.

In this context, we would hope that you could clarify the relationship between Sport Ireland, who appear to have been represented at the launch of this campaign (14th August: Guinness Open Gate Brewery) by Ms Lynne Cantwell (Board member and Chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport committee), and Diageo. Ms Cantwell and Sport Ireland are quoted and referenced, at length, in a variety of the media coverage of the event.[4]

Does this episode mark a formal alliance between Sport Ireland and Diageo? Are there plans to establish commercial relationship with other alcohol companies who partner with other codes across Irish sport?

It may be that Ms Cantwell was not representing Sport Ireland but were this the case perhaps you could clarify if there is a commercial relationship between Ms Cantwell and Diageo, and if so, whether there may be a conflict of interest (Sport Ireland Code of Governance and Business Conduct) arising for her position as a Board member of Sport Ireland?

In October 2018, the IRFU launched its strategic ‘Women in Rugby Action Plan’. It stated that:      “To achieve our objectives for female rugby, we recognise the need to build from grassroots to create a sustainable model for the game. This entails attracting more adult and young female players into the game and providing sustainable and accessible opportunities to play the game …” [5]

Irish Sport support these initiatives through its Youth Field Sport Grant which is designed to support grass roots development in Rugby and growing participation numbers and targeting communities outside of the traditional base of the sport. The Irish Sport’s 2017 annual report states: “Meanwhile the IRFU continues its efforts to increase under-age participation within schools and community rugby along with specific programmes for girls.”[6]

Given the circumstances of this new development and reinforcement of the links between rugby and alcohol, could you clarify that you and Sport Ireland are satisfied that this type of relationship is the appropriate ground on which to attract girls and young women into their game.

In this respect, it is notable that Connacht Rugby seem to have secured commercial sponsorship without allying itself to an alcohol product.[7]

I appreciate that some of the issues raised herein may be complex but I would welcome your response at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely


Eunan McKinney

Head of Communications and Advocacy


[1] The Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Study 2014








Unveiling of Liberty Fields”, Guinness’ New 5-Minute Documentary and TV Advert 14/8/2019
Pictured at the unveiling of “Liberty Fields”, Guinness’ new 5-minute documentary and TV advert, in the Guinness Open Gate Brewery are former Irish International Rugby Player and Chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport committee, Lynne Cantwell, former Irish International Rugby Player, Jamie Heaslip and RTE producer Elaine Buckley.
“Liberty Fields” tells the inspirational story of a group of women who defied societal norms in 1980s Japan by forming a women’s rugby team. In 1989 Tokyo, women’s rugby was almost unheard of and the team faced ridicule and hostility, but these women were undeterred and they soon became one of the strongest teams nationally, with many selected to represent their country in the Women’s World Cup.
Liberty Fields RFC played at the highest level of competition with no coach, no doctor and very little support. However, these women showed what you can achieve through grit, determination and unwavering spirit.
“Liberty Fields” is the latest story in the iconic “Made of More” series by Guinness, which champions real people around the globe who act with extraordinary integrity and character to enrich the world around them.
Pictured is former Irish International Rugby Player and Chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport committee, Lynne Cantwell
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan