Alcohol and Sport – Downstream Impact

No AlcoholThe Late Debate on RTE Radio last night featured a passionate exchange of views between Tom McGurk of RTE’s Rugby Coverage team and John O’Mahony whose Oireachtas Committee has recommended that the proposed ban on alcohol sponsorship in sport be deferred.

The debate comes in light of weekend comments attributed to but then clarified by Diageo suggesting that a restriction on the way in which alcohol was marketed in a jurisdiction might have an impact on an businesses operations there.

Honestly if this was said by any other company in any other sector would it have caused such a furore?

Sport for Business has covered the debate on Alcohol Sponsorship and Sport since it’s inception 15 months ago. We brought together a round table of ten thinkers in the field from Peter McKenna of the GAA to Peter O’Brien of Diageo looking for a way through what is a very emotive and very important subject.

Irish society has a long and storied history with alcohol and sport is no more or less immune from the impact it has on the way we live our lives, sometimes for good, sometimes not so.

Alcohol sponsorship from Carlsberg with the FAI to Guinness and Rugby and until recently the All Ireland Hurling Championship, as well as the Heineken Cup, contributes something in the region of €35 million to sport in this country.

Without that money there would be fewer teams to cheer, fewer events to attend, fewer outlets for children and adults to participate in sport.

There are restrictions in place on how alcohol is promoted but they do need strengthening and placing on a statutory rather than a voluntary footing.

To take that money out of direct sport while leaving alcohol companies free to advertise outside the ground, at music and arts festivals and elsewhere is a failed notion that stands only on the basis that ‘we have to start somewhere’ but fails to recognise the greater impact.

We put forward a suggestion that a Government health promotion investment of €35 million would remove the negative impact on sporting programmes and serve a greater useful purpose in reducing the €1 Billion a day cost to the country of alcohol abuse. It would be the same amount spent by the Road Safety Authority in reducing death and injury on our roads.

Alcohol is enjoyed by many and abused by a minority. The same could be said of sugar, soft drinks, cars and betting. To single out sport as a ‘whipping boy’ for dramatic public policy without its inclusion as part of an overall strategy is not the right way to go about it.

The debate is not yet over by a long stretch and Government has yet to decide on what to do. The heat of the arguments and the strength of feeling means that it cannot and should never be ignored. It does need though to be handled with care because the consequence of a decision in isolation could be just as bad, if not worse, than the consequence of doing nothing.

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