Friday 15 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Drink deal hypocrisy is rampant in Irish sport

From the day they came aboard in 1995 to when they departed in 2013, the GAA were regularly attacked for dealing with a drinks company. Photo: Stock
From the day they came aboard in 1995 to when they departed in 2013, the GAA were regularly attacked for dealing with a drinks company. Photo: Stock
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Aren't double standards wonderful little inventions altogether? Pliable to a degree that sends Uri Geller's spoon-bending trick hurtling down the magic league, they come with the added advantage of being plentiful.

If one brand doesn't suit, there are always lots of alternatives. I was reminded of that in Lansdowne Road last Saturday for the Ireland-New Zealand rugby Test.

It was part of the 'Guinness Series', a commercial handle attached to Ireland's November internationals. Fair enough. Modern-day sport worldwide is wrapped in layers of sponsorship so why shouldn't the IRFU sup happily with the Guinness people?

There are, of course, arguments over the morality of allowing alcoholic drink companies sponsor sport. France have banned it since 1991 and pressure is growing elsewhere for a similar approach.

For now, though, it's legal in Ireland and Britain so the IRFU and Pro12 are entitled to line up their deals. Guinness, in turn, are merely doing a job to promote their product when they adorn Lansdowne Road with advertising. Subtle it certainly wasn't.


A giant on-pitch Guinness inflatable swayed in the evening breeze before the game, while the company name was also emblazoned on the halfway line and behind both sets of posts. Naturally, the post pads were emblazoned too while the name flickered repeatedly on the advertising hoardings.

It was good business for the company and the IRFU so neither deserves to be criticised.

However, let us backtrack to the period when Guinness were sponsoring the hurling championships. From the day they came aboard in 1995 to when they departed in 2013, the GAA were regularly attacked for dealing with a drinks company.

Every year, without fail, the launch of the championship was followed by a blitz of criticism on how the GAA were allegedly corrupting the social fabric of the country through their deal with Guinness. Now, the GAA never had the Guinness name emblazoned on pitches or posts (imagine the apoplexy that would have caused?) but the sponsorship was still targeted relentlessly and vociferously by doctors, politicians, various lobby groups and assorted others. There was internal criticism too, led by former GAA president Dr Mick Loftus.

A man of the highest honour and integrity, he argued passionately (and still does) for an end to all sports sponsorship by alcoholic drinks companies. But what of the others?

Have you read or heard much criticism of the IRFU for taking the drink shilling? Were radio phone-in programmes jammed with callers protesting over Guinness' huge presence in and around Lansdowne Road last Saturday?

So why the double standards? Where are the many doctors and others who had plenty to say about the GAA, yet appear tongue-tied when it comes to rugby? Actually, this isn't double standards anymore - it's sheer bloody hypocrisy.

The argument has been put forward that as professional sports dealing in an international environment are subject to more commercial pressures than the GAA they have to be held to a different account.

The GAA, it seems, is required to be the conscience of the nation, even tying its hands commercially while other sports do as they please.

World Cup

And when it comes to other areas of the national interest, the GAA has to deliver too, just as it did when opening Croke Park to rugby and soccer while Lansdowne Road was being developed and now by making eight venues available for the Rugby World Cup bid.

Which brings me to Shane Ross, an unlikely Minister for Sport if ever there was one.

In an article in the Sunday Independent, he informed us that it wasn't cricket (you don't say!) or Gaelic football that's unifying sport in this country.

"The game of rugby is uniting Ireland," he wrote, while also informing us that "the lead taken by rugby has proved infectious".

However uniting or infectious it might be, there would be no World Cup bid without the GAA and the ceaseless efforts of its membership which, over many decades, built the stadium network for counties and clubs.

That should loom larger over the back-slapping than a cursory 'thanks for the use of the hall'.

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