Sunday 20 October 2019

Alcohol sponsorship in sport will be ‘seen as crazy’ in future, expert warns

Professor Joe Barry
Professor Joe Barry

Ed Carty

ALCOHOL sponsorship of sport will be seen as a crazy idea in 15 years, a public health specialist has warned.

As doctors warned that the number of young and middle aged people with alcohol-related illness has doubled since the late 1990s, Professor Joe Barry said a ban was inevitable.

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) issued 25 recommendations to combat the growing disease problem including an end to supermarkets selling wine, beer and spirits below cost.

They also want the Government to stop issuing new licences for the off-trade, and fewer off-licences.

"In 15 years time it will be seen as crazy to have allowed alcohol sponsorship of sport, in the same way as tobacco," Prof Barry said.

"I don't know how long it will take but it is being put up to the drinks companies now. I think at the moment because the economy is on its uppers it would be difficult but later there will be plenty of telecoms companies and the like very keen to get market share."

The RCPI's new policy group on alcohol also called for punitive fines for shopkeepers found selling alcohol to underage drinkers.

Its report highlighted the health impacts, with alcoholic liver disease increasing by 247pc for 15-34-year-olds, and by 224pc for 35-49-year-olds between 1995 and 2007. It also said that about 5pc of newly diagnosed cancers and cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol - about 900 cases and 500 deaths a year.

The issue of sports sponsorship and advertising by alcohol companies is being examined by an Oireachtas committee.

It was told last month that the sponsorship is worth €9m to the Irish Rugby Football Union , "a significant portion" of the Football Association of Ireland's total €6m sponsorship stream and a small amount of Gaelic Athletic Association revenue.

Elsewhere, the RCPI said minimum pricing of alcohol is needed to tackle the health impact of increased drinking levels and a change in habits.

"We know people's drinking habits are changing from on-trade to off-trade," Prof Barry said.

"Alcohol is not any ordinary commodity, it's a psycho-active substance. There needs to be a reduction in the number of outlets. You could start by saying that no new licences would be issued.

"The liver specialists were talking about men and women in their 30s - they are getting creeping liver disease."

The RCPI said it accepts a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport is controversial but its report stated: "Alcohol is a drug, and as such can no longer be perceived as a normal component of sporting activity."

Kathryn D'Arcy, director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), said: "The reality is that restricting advertising and sponsorship delivers good soundbites but will not have a long-term impact on actualising cultural change.


"Shifting societal norms takes time - consider the success that Ireland has had making drink-driving socially unacceptable in this country.


"ABFI wants to realise a society where alcohol is enjoyed, not abused, and getting drunk is not socially acceptable, but getting to that point requires real courage and a collaborative approach."


The ABFI said there had been a 20% fall in alcohol consumption in the last 12 years but that it backed the College's call for tougher penalties for people selling drink to those who are under-age, and for improved education.

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