Thursday 14 December 2017

Government TDs rebel against alcohol ban of sporting events

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Eamonn Sweeney

Leading Fine Gael figures have joined the chorus of disquiet about the government's proposal to ban the sponsorship of sporting events by drinks companies.

Cork South West TD Noel Harrington has said that he's against the ban because he's concerned, “about the impact this is going to have at grass roots level. How is this funding going to be replaced? That's the problem.”

Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, has also raised concerns about the proposals to be brought to Cabinet by Labour junior minister Alex Whyte.

“Minister White is putting forward is a whole package of measures and they are about more than sport,” said the Minister.

“They are about things like minimum pricing and I’m broadly supportive of what he is putting forward but I do have concerns when it comes to sport sponsorship. 

“First of all I want to know where the money will come from to compensate sporting organisations that are going to lose out.  Secondly I want to know why arts and cultural events are being treated differently, particularly when so many young people attend concerts and attend cultural events, and thirdly I think we need to be sure that we can still take full part in international sporting events.”

Harrington says that his views are shared by other Fine Gael TDs, particularly those who are involved in local sport.

“We're trying to get people off the couch and away from the consoles and out from under the laptops and the ban will have the opposite effect. It hasn't been thought through. If there's a blanket ban on drink sponsorship of sport there will be unintended consequences and I don't think we've done enough to address them or think about them. It's those unintended consequences for sport which worry me. I would be slow to do anything before they've been teased out properly.”

Reports indicated that the proposed ban could go before Fine Gael and Labour TSs early next week but as far as Harrington, who is a member of the Dail's Transport and Communications Committee which has conducted hearings into the issue, is concerned this is far too soon.

“We haven't debated the issue far enough,” he says, “It's at the lower levels of sport that this is going to have an impact. We haven't worked out how this money is going to be replaced or if it's going to be replaced. Guys who are involved with local sport on the ground would be of the same opinion as myself. This measure is not going to be helpful to the promotion of sport.”

Harrington is also puzzled as to why sport is being singled out in this manner. “What causes me most concern,” he declares, “is the situation with young people and online gambling. There are terrible problems there but we don't seem to be doing anything to tackle that. Paddy Power and the likes are still sponsoring major sporting events and there doesn't seem to be much concern about that.”

He also raises the question of how efficient the ban would be in tackling drinking among young people, noting that, “If the drinks companies take the money out of sport that doesn't mean they'll stop advertising. My worry is that they'll then spend that money in directly targeting young people through the video games they play and on Facebook and things like that. There they can advertise in a more subliminal way which will end up doing more damage.”

Harrington, a former Cork county senior football championship winner with divisional side, Beara singled out the GAA for doing great work in the field of alcohol awareness in the past. But he thinks the current legislation will lead to unease at local level.

“In a lot of places if a club needs money for sponsorship, the only place they're going to get is from the local publican. Now people are going to worry that they won't be able to do that anymore.”

His views chime with those of Sean Kelly, former president of the GAA, current Fine Gael MEP for Munster and one of the most respected figures in Irish sport.

 In an RTE interview last week Kelly hit out against the ban for being, “based on opinion rather than evidence,” and pointed out that since the ban had been introduced in France alcohol misuse by young people had increased by 17% whereas in Ireland it has decreased by 11% in recent years.

“The effects of a ban will be negative in the long term,” Kelly argued, “because it will curtail the ability of sporting bodies to promote their sports with negative effects on the health of young people.” He also drew attention to the anomaly whereby the drinks companies will still be allowed to sponsor arts festivals and cultural events, pointing out that this means they will merely be able to switch their sponsorship to this field. “There's no scientific evidence that this ban has any effect whatsoever,” added Kelly who as President of the GAA pioneered the Association's alcohol awareness strategy.

Meanwhile another Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes, Chairman of the Transport and Communications Committee, believes that their report on the matter, due later this month, will reflect the views of 'the vast majority' of members who are opposed to the ban. “If they are to go by the views of the vast majority of the members of the commitee they would hold off on it,” says Hayes.


Read Eamonn Sweeney and John Greene on the proposed ban of alcohol sponsorship in sport in today's Sunday Independent

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