The question I ask myself is why do major alcohol companies sponsor sport?

  • Post category:News

Alcohol abuse is the curse of the Irish and any attempts by the Government to change our attitude to drink must be welcomed. There are two sides to the argument about whether to ban the sponsorship of sports’ events by the alcohol industry. On one side, it can be argued that any such ban would deprive sports’ organisations like the GAA, the IFA or the IRFU of much-needed revenue in tough economic times. On the other side is the argument that sponsorship of sport by the drinks’ industry glamorises alcohol among young and impressionable people.

From The Clare Champion

The question I ask myself is why do major alcohol companies sponsor sport? The answer must surely be that they want to sell more of their product. That is their whole raison d’etre. The more they sell, the better off they will be. I don’t see anybody arguing against that. I do understand the point that without sponsorship from, for instance, the local pub, a lot of GAA clubs would go out of existence. That is a serious point that will have to be addressed. However, the GAA have shown at a national level that they can manage without the sponsorship of Guinness.

However, the major point is that we, as a nation, are drinking ourselves to death. We have banned the advertising of tobacco and we have put a total ban on drugs like cannabis. Yet alcohol causes far more problems for us than cigarettes or cannabis.

We do not know how to enjoy ourselves without drink. We can’t enjoy a hurling or a football match without drink before and after the game. We can’t celebrate a wedding, a birthday party or even a First Holy Communion without drink. We must have drink, and lashings of it, in order to be able to bury our dead.

The abuse of alcohol is the major cause of most of the problems that we are cursed with. Most of the violence that occurs in Irish society has its origins in the glass or the bottle. It is the main reason for domestic violence and for the breakdown in marriage. It is the reason for a lot of the poverty in this country and for most of the chronic absenteeism from the workplace. It is due to the abuse of drink that medical staffs in our hospitals cannot cope with the number of patients they have to deal with in their emergency departments.

Official figures will show you that the French drink more per capita than do the Irish. But visit any town or village in France late on a Saturday night and you will never witness the scenes of drunkenness that you will see in Ireland.

A study carried out for the HSE by Sean Byrne, lecturer in economics at Dublin Institute of Technology, estimated that the cost of alcohol abuse to Irish society was €3.7 billion per annum. That’s far more than the Government intends to take out of the economy in the Budget next October. The cost of alcohol abuse to the Irish health system alone amounts to €1.2bn and the total crime related costs are €1.9bn.

The study says the decline in the real price of alcohol in Ireland has resulted in alcohol becoming much more affordable, especially for young people. This, in turn, has led to the very alarming increase in consumption.

Some years ago in this column I argued against imposing a minimum prices’ order on alcohol, saying that such a move would be unfair to those who cannot afford to go out to the pub but buy cheap alcohol in a supermarket for consumption at home. I no longer hold that view, having been convinced by arguments on the other side. The cheaper the drink, the more will be drunk. It’s as simple as that. We are not going to impose a blanket ban on the consumption of alcohol so we must make it less easily available. One way to do that is to increase the price.

However, I do not have the answer to the problem. Apparently, official figures are saying that we are drinking less today than we were 10 years ago. If that is so, I believe the reason is that we have less money in our pockets to spend on drink today than we had in 2003. I certainly cannot afford to go out to the pub today as often as I did in the past. I doubt that in actual fact we are drinking less today. I’d say we are drinking more at home and possibly less in the pub.

Whether banning the sponsorship of sports’ events by the drinks’ industry will tackle the problem, I don’t know for sure but it surely is a step in the right direction. It is wise not to impose an immediate ban but to do it by stages until 2020, as the Government intends to do. Sports’ bodies who lose any money due to the departure of sponsorship should be reimbursed by the State through savings made in hospital, crime and other costs.

But does anybody have an answer to the problem? Alcohol abuse has been a major problem here for as long as I can remember but it has reached crisis proportions over the last number of years. Thousands of young people’s lives have been blighted either because they drink too much themselves or those they depended on are alcoholics.

Personally, I don’t know any drug abuser but I certainly know a lot of people who don’t know when to stop drinking once they have started. For the sake of our greatest asset, which is our young population, and for the sake of generations not yet born, it is vital that this problem is solved.

Any government that can lead the way deserves full support.
I am not trying to be a spoilsport in coming out in favour of a blanket ban on drinks’ sponsorship of sports’ events. I just happen to know full well the damage that alcohol abuse causes.