The Government has kicked to touch its plans to ban sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry as drugs strategy minister Roisín Shortall admits it may take up to 10 years to enforce it.
The development comes on one of the biggest days in the sporting calendar, with the finals of the Heineken Cup and the Champions League also sponsored, in part, by the beer giant.
Ms Shortall told the Irish Examiner she was “confident” the Government would prohibit alcohol sponsorship of sporting events, but admitted the timeframe was an issue.
A sports law expert warned the move could result in “significant financial damage” for sports and urged the Government to adopt a consultative approach with the sector.
A number of ministers expressed strong concern at the proposal following the publication last February of the national substance misuse strategy report, which called for the ban to be in place within five years.
The minister of state at the Department of Health said the deadline for implementation of the ban would be “closer to 10 years”, but it would be phased in.
Sport Minister Leo Varadkar said: “It would be very difficult for them [sports organisations] to make up the shortfall, as government funding is being reduced and other corporates are not as generous as they used to be. What is there is a recommendation of a committee and no government decision [has been] made on that.
“The general view of [the] Government is that in the longer term, which I support, we would prefer that alcohol and sport sponsorship would be separate and that the two would not be linked, but the timeframe for doing that would have to be very long.”
Gary Rice, sports and sponsorship specialist at Beauchamps solicitors, said the move would have a “very severe” impact on sports bodies.
“The ban will have a very significant impact,” he said.
“There’s no doubt about that. Alcohol sponsorship accounts for a significant amount of revenue for the main field sports. A huge amount of that revenue goes to grassroots sports.
“The Government’s proposals have to be well thought out to ensure sport here does not suffer significant financial damage and ensure the possibility of bringing in significant international events into the country is not diminished.
“This could be done perhaps through an appropriate tightening of the current code of practice through consultation with sport bodies, representatives of the alcohol industry and health authorities. This would facilitate Ms Shortall’s wish and at the same time not cause huge damage to the good work sport does.”
Ms Shortall also said Ireland will lobby the EU in support of Scotland’s introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol and will use Ireland’s presidency of the EU to back the initiative.
She said health authorities north and south were commissioning research to analyse different minimum pricing levels. She said this would provide supporting evidence in the event of a legal challenge under EU competition law.
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