GOVERNMENT investment in sport has shrunk from €311m in 2008 to just €54m this year, meaning the loss of alcohol sponsorship would be very damaging, a Dail Committee heard today.
The Federation of Irish Sport said that funding by the Irish Sports Council had also been cut from €57.6m in 2008 to just under €43m in 2013, a cut of 25pc.
This decline had been matched by increased pressure on other revenue streams such as membership, ticket prices and sponsorship, said Sarah O'Connor, chief executive of the federation which represents over 100 sports bodies.
She was speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism and Sport, which was discussing a proposed ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events as part of efforts to tackle problem drinking in Ireland.
"Any policy such as the one under discussion, which impacts sport's existing and future private funding will gravely impact all sports' ability to sustain themselves financially," said Ms O'Connor.
Over 2.1m Irish people a year took part in sport mainly through 12,000 sports clubs and with 450,000 volunteers and 40,000 jobs directly supported through sporting activity, Ms O'Connor said.
Horse Racing Ireland said that alcohol sponsorship was about 10pc of total commercial sponsorship of their sport and was worth over €1m a year to them.
Total commercial sponsorship of horseracing had halved since 2007, and if a ban on alcohol sponsorship was introduced it would result in event like today's Guinness Handicap Chase at Punchestown or the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse being lost, said HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh.
The typical racegoer was aged 35 and over and race meetings were convivial events where younger adults got a good example of responsible drinking and socialising.
The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland said that alcohol sponsorship was worth around €30-40m a year and a ban on it would damage the valuable drinks industry and Irish tourism.
Sponsorship was aimed at encouraging consumers to choose one brand over another rather than increasing consumption, said DIGI spokesman Peter O'Brien.
This was shown by the fact that wine consumption in Ireland had increased by 13pc in the last 16 years, whereas beer consumption was down 9pc - even though many sports events were sponsored by beer brands but none were sponsored by wines.
The drinks industry favoured alternative methods such as avoiding alcohol sponsorship of events where over a quarter of the target audience was aged under 18, and early intervention and education about problem drinking.