Wednesday 16 October 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Rugby's drink deal shows sponsorship hypocrisy'

GAA were heavily criticised on all fronts for what is the norm in other sports

Guinness marking a milestone year and its involvement with the All-Ireland SH championship back in 2009 with the help of Waterford’s John Mullane, James Woodlock of Tipperary, Kilkenny supporter Kenneth Morris and Stephen Lucey of Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Guinness marking a milestone year and its involvement with the All-Ireland SH championship back in 2009 with the help of Waterford’s John Mullane, James Woodlock of Tipperary, Kilkenny supporter Kenneth Morris and Stephen Lucey of Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It was announced last Friday that Guinness are to deepen their involvement with rugby after signing up as sponsors of the Six Nations for the next six years.

They already sponsor the Pro14, Ireland's November internationals and are described as 'official beer to the IRFU' on the union's website.

Last July Heineken were announced as title sponsors of the Champions Cup, a role they filled previously.

Check the FAI website and you will find that Carlsberg are aboard as partners. That's a lot of beer sloshing around the sponsorship troughs in rugby and soccer. Cheers!

Heineken's return to the European Cup and Guinness linking up with the Six Nations are recent high-profile developments, yet neither exercised the various custodians of moral law and order who were so dismayed by the GAA's sponsorship arrangements some years ago.

The outraged ones included the Government, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and, believe it or not, the Catholic Church.

All three rounded on the GAA over their deal with Guinness for the hurling championship.

In 2003, Micheál Martin, then Minister for Health, now Fianna Fáil leader, was adamant that the sponsorship was "sending out the wrong message to young people".

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Does he still feel that way at a time when rugby, in particular, has reached unprecedented achievement levels in Ireland?

Or is it OK for sports other than GAA to "send out the wrong message to young people?"

And then there was the IMO, who accused the GAA of irresponsibility after they extended the deal with Guinness in 2006.

The IMO described it as a "betrayal of all those who have misgivings about the Association taking drink sponsorship".

And the lashing didn't stop there: "The GAA has turned its back on the many thousands of Irish people and families with alcohol-related problems."

Even the Catholic Church got in on the GAA-bashing act, with the priest editor of 'Reality' magazine describing the sponsorship as "a scandal", while those responsible for arranging it were, apparently, "both unwise and irresponsible".

It was quite a pincer movement on various fronts and definitely influenced thinking in the GAA as many within the organisation became uncomfortable amid the mounting hostility.

In 2008, the GAA abandoned the sole title sponsor arrangement for the championships and while Guinness remained on board as part of the multi-brand model, they left in 2013.

It's highly unlikely that the GAA will ever do competition sponsorship deals with an alcoholic drinks company again, although if I were in Tom Ryan's (director-general) or Peter McKenna's (commercial director) positions I would be tempted to float the idea, if only to highlight another example of the stinking hypocrisy that surrounds this whole area.

Where's the difference between the GAA and rugby/soccer entering sponsorship arrangements with drink companies?

Who decided that the GAA has to be held to higher account than other sports? Politicians? Doctors? Priests?

The argument that since most of rugby's deals are organised internationally and, as such, outside the direct jurisdiction of the IRFU, misses the point.

If so many 'important' people thought the GAA were wrong on moral grounds to accept sponsorship from a drinks company, then the same principle surely applies to professional sports.

And where are the strident voices that chastised the GAA in the past?

There wasn't a murmur from them when Heineken returned to the European Cup last summer and silence has reigned since the Guinness Six Nations deal was announced five days ago.

This has nothing to do with whether drink companies should be allowed in sports sponsorship, but with the selective manner that it's treated.

It's wrong to accept it or it's not. Either way, it's unfair to attempt to bully one sporting organisation out of the market - which is effectively what happened the GAA - and remain silent when other sports delve ever deeper into the pot.

Imagine if the GAA announced they were resuming their deal with Guinness.

The hounds of hell would be unleashed on Croke Park, snarling fiercely as their masters explained why the GAA were responsible for causing every drink-related problem in the country.

Curiously (or perhaps not), rugby's recent big deals with Heineken and Guinness haven't elicited any such negativity. Raise your glass to double standards.


‘Dubs to the Four’ a fitting conclusion to capital year

When Gerry Callan faced into the massive challenge of compiling Dublin football records a few years ago, he had no idea that the finished product would include the story of how the county team made history.

‘DUBS TO THE FOUR’, published by Ballpoint Press, charts the great adventure which ended in triumph when Jim Gavin’s men entered a very exclusive club last September.

It’s the decoration on the most detailed catalogue of statistics ever produced in any county.

Teams and scorers for every Dublin game in all grades since the foundation of GAA are accompanied by a wide range of other details, as well as profiles of dozens of players.

It shows Stephen Cluxton to be the most ‘capped’ Dublin player, on 200 league and championship appearances, three ahead of John O’Leary.

Another famous goalkeeper, Paddy Cullen, is in seventh place on 121 appearances.

Sean Cox benefit game an all too infrequent Blues v Royals meeting

It’s unfortunate that it has taken the serious injuries sustained by Sean Cox prior to a soccer game in Liverpool to get Dublin playing Meath in a football game these days.

But with the proceeds of Sunday’s benefit game (Páirc Tailteann, 1.30) going to such a worthy cause, a large crowd will turn out to support the Dunboyne man.

No doubt, ex-players and supporters from both counties, who remember the days when Dublin v Meath was the ultimate box-office, will reflect on the many epic battles and wonder why the respective graphs have gone in vastly different directions.

Who could have foreseen it when Meath dropped into Division 2 in 2006 that they would still be out of the top flight heading into 2019?

It’s a major problem for Leinster at a time when Dublin have their best team and also a great loss to the wider GAA.

It will change, of course, as cycles always do – but when?

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

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