Last orders on the cards for alcohol ads in sports
But most people oppose outright ban on drink firms' sponsorship
An outright ban on sponsorship of sports in Ireland by drinks companies now looks inevitable, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
The revelation comes on the day that Kilkenny and Tipperary meet in the All-Ireland hurling final with Guinness one of three companies that sponsor the event.
The Government's new drugs and alcohol strategy is unlikely to impose an immediate ban, but instead may allow sporting organisations -- including the GAA, IRFU and the FAI -- time to phase out sponsorship by drinks manufacturers over a two to three-year period.
Drinks companies' sponsorship of sporting events is already banned in some countries. In France, the Heineken Cup, European rugby's premier club competition, is known as the 'H Cup' because of restrictions on alcohol advertising.
Irish soccer and rugby chiefs have already said that banning sponsorship would have huge implications for Irish sport, could cost jobs and would stop international sports events being staged in Ireland.
Sponsorship of both Irish sport and international sport where Irish teams participate runs into millions of euro and is all pervasive. It includes competitions like the Magners League in rugby, and the European Champions League, which includes Heineken among its lead sponsors for 2010, and was previously sponsored by Amstel.
Last month, the Galway Hurdle was once again sponsored by Guinness while the Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National is Ireland's richest National Hunt handicap steeplechase with a prize fund of €250,000.
However, last week the Labour Party advocated a gradual phasing out of alcohol sponsorship of sporting organisations and events while Fine Gael is expected to follow suit in a policy document currently being drafted.
Recent research has shown that Ireland remains a country of binge drinkers with 44 per cent of people saying they had five or more drinks at least once a week.
The National Substance Misuse Strategy, due to be presented to Government by the end of the year, will incorporate policy in relation to both drugs and alcohol.
The drugs policy element of this strategy has already been agreed and published as the 'interim' National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016.
A steering group was established to develop alcohol policies for the strategy to cover the period up to 2016 -- jointly chaired by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Health and Children.
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) has urged the Government to introduce an outright ban arguing that a voluntary code of conduct for sports organisations and drinks companies will not work.
The Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the RCPI says that alcohol is not an ordinary commodity and the normal rules of the market should not apply.
"Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that causes much health and social damage in Ireland," the RCPI said in a submission.
Alcohol Action Ireland, the HSE and the National Youth Council of Ireland also support a move to ban drink advertising in Irish sport.
But the move is not universally supported among State agencies. The Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport has argued that in the current climate, a ban could have serious implications for sporting organisations while the Irish Sports Council suggested that the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship could have a negative impact on participation rates in sport because of reduced funding at grassroots level.
Meanwhile, the FAI believes the association would be placed in a "disadvantaged position" against countries where there is no ban.
The association said that "perhaps more damaging" would be a decision by international event organisers to avoid staging tournaments and other events here due to a lack of sponsorship.
The IRFU said it would not exist without the sponsorship and also claimed a ban could hit employment in the sports sector.
However, the GAA told the steering group that the extent of alcohol-industry sponsorship for Gaelic games at national level "is not seen as a hugely significant issue".
Meanwhile, a Sunday Independent/Quantum Research telephone poll showed that a majority of respondents are against a ban.
In all, 58 per cent of respondents did not think the Government should ban the sponsorship of sporting occasions by alcohol companies.
Most people believe that monies derived from such sponsorship ensure that sport thrives in this country, and that if it were taken away then these sports would be financially crippled.
Another argument put forward was that sport, drinking and the sponsorship that goes with it are all intrinsically linked.
Many people mentioned that going to the pub and having a few drinks while watching sport was how they choose to relax and they saw nothing wrong with this activity.
On the other hand, 42 per cent of those polled thought the Government should ban drink sponsorship as they believe there is a connection between this sponsorship and our culture of heavy drinking, especially among the young.
Those in favour of a ban saw this kind of sponsorship as a cynical exploitation of young people and an attempt to use the popularity of sport to sell dangerous products to a vulnerable demographic.
The banning of tobacco sponsorship in sporting events was cited by respondents as a precedent in this area.