ONE of the country's top sports executives has warned politicians not to blame sponsorship by drinks firms for alcohol abuse.
Football Association of Ireland chief John Delaney argued that a "crude" ban on alcohol companies backing major competitions would actually damage society.
"Do not blame the sporting bodies for what is happening with alcohol abuse," Mr Delaney said.
"If you take the sponsorship away, the effect to this state would be greater because that money would not be spent in getting kids active in socially deprived areas."
The FAI chief was joined by Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) chief executive Philip Browne and GAA director general Paraic Duffy in a grilling from politicians trying to tackle the nation's drinking habits.
All three defended the sporting world against claims it could be linked with alcohol abuse.
They argued there was no firm evidence that a ban on sponsorship from drinks companies would impact on drinking levels.
Instead, they said it would suck money from the sporting organisations that invest heavily in promoting healthy lifestyles.
Mr Delaney, who was regularly seen celebrating with fans at Euro 2012 and other overseas matches, said mixing alcohol with sport was a friendly means of socialising.
He added that a huge portion of the sponsorship money his organisation receives from drinks' firms is invested in social inclusion and community programmes for youngsters.
"All of which contribute directly to keeping young people healthy, happy and away from the temptations of substance abuse including alcohol," he said.
IRFU boss Mr Browne argued that major sporting events, which are funded through alcohol sponsorship, bring a huge amount of money into the economy.
He added that the funding allows the sporting bodies to connect with communities and boost health awareness, in terms of alcohol consumption, obesity and exercise.
"The reality is this goes right down to grassroots sport and we need to be careful that we don't unravel something that is very good and relevant to the nation," Mr Browne said.
"It could be a disaster."
Mr Browne shot down suggestions that advertising alcohol during matches would boost drinking habits, using the wine industry as an example of one with little promotion that boasts a large customer base.
"There is not a heck of a lot of advertising by the wine industry in this country at all, so we fundamentally don't believe there is any empirical evidence that shows the linkage and that's the fundamental issue for us," he said
The sporting chiefs were addressing the issue of a ban on alcohol sponsorship at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications as it examines the implications of such a proposal.
The GAA's Mr Duffy insisted that if there was hard evidence that all sponsorship of sport had an impact and increased drinking among young people, the bodies would take action.
But he said there was no evidence.
"To just come along and impose a crude ban on the sponsorship of sport would take money out of sport and I don't think it's the way," Mr Duffy said
He said the GAA "passionately" believed that education was the best way to address the nation's attitude to alcohol.
Mr Duffy said the sporting organisations would be willing to play a bigger role in educating sports fans and raising awareness.
But investment would be needed, and that money comes through sponsorship, he added.