Alcohol sports funding ‘increases drinking’

Shelved plans to ban alcohol sports sponsorship in Ireland are under the spotlight after international research found a significant link between it and increased consumption, including among schoolchildren.

The research, published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, says the association between such sponsorship and alcohol use among minors “warranted close attention from public health policymakers”.

Given the lack of Irish research on the matter, it will be of interest to health experts and departmental officials here.

The research reviewed studies in seven countries, including five in the EU.

“All studies report positive associations between exposure to alcohol sports sponsorship and self-reported alcohol consumption,” states the report.

“Two studies found indirect exposure to alcohol sports sponsorship was associated with increased levels of drinking amongst schoolchildren, and five studies found a positive association between direct alcohol sports sponsorship and hazardous drinking amongst adult sports-people.”

It says the relationship between sponsorship and drinking among children “will concern policymakers”.

The research, conducted by the London-based Institute of Alcohol Studies, states that the statistical significance of the impact varied between the nine reports.

One 2012 study among 6,650 young students in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland found that “exposure to branded sports sponsorship increased the odds of drinking”.

A 2009 study among 320 students from Welsh schools found that “awareness of alcohol sponsorship predicted likelihood of boys drinking and of both boys and girls getting drunk the following weekend”.

The research notes that France and Norway had banned such sports sponsorship.

“Based on this review it is clear that more research is required into the effectiveness of restrictions on alcohol sports sponsorship and harmful alcohol consumption,” states the report.

It adds that “countries such as Ireland and New Zealand” were considering this policy intervention.

The report of the government’s National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group in February 2012, on the back of three years of work, recommended that alcohol sponsorship of sports events be phased out by 2016.

The recommendation was strongly opposed by sporting organisations and drinks companies.

The Government’s action plan on alcohol, published in October 2013, kicked the issue to touch by establishing a working group on it.

That group reported at the end of 2014, stating that evidence of the links between sponsorship and consumption was limited. It noted a lack of research on the subject in Ireland.

In 2011, the value of drink sports sponsorship was put at €35m. The major sporting bodies argued that loss of funding from alcohol sponsorship would have a detrimental impact.

There were conflicting views on alternative sources of sponsorship and the group said further work was needed to identify the options for Government.

The issue is not covered in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, published in December, other than prohibiting alcohol advertising in sports grounds for events where a majority of competitors are children.

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