SPORTS in Ireland could collapse without the lucrative sponsorship of drinks companies, a Government advisory group has warned.
It says any move to ban drinks sponsorships – worth millions to sporting organisations and events every year – must take account of the contribution they make.
The Working Group on Sports Sponsorship by the Alcohol Industry was set up under the Programme for Government with a view to phasing out such sponsorship.
But the Department of Tourism and Sport, which is a member of the group, warned: “The department is concerned that any constraints placed on sporting organisations in the current economic climate could have very serious implications for their operations.”
The group heard that Guinness and Heineken spent over €5.5 million on rugby and hurling alone in 2007.
The department expressed concern that: “Non-intentional outcomes may be achieved if disproportionate and hurried decisions are made on the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship.”
That view was backed by the FAI, the IRFU, Horse Racing Ireland, the Irish Greyhound Board, the Irish Sports Council, drinks companies and advertising firms, all of whom are represented on the advisory group.
The FAI, which has had 20 years of sponsorship from Diageo, said there could be no ban here until there was a global ban and the IRFU warned a ban would cause devastation.
“The IRFU expressed concern that there is a real danger that rash decisions could be made with long- reaching and devastating consequences for organised sport,” it said.
“The IRFU is firmly of the belief that Irish rugby and Irish sport would be significantly and adversely affected by a ban on alcohol sponsorship which would be to the detriment of society.”
The GAA was less concerned, but business grouping, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, said a ban would drive away international events and be “extremely damaging to a vital national industry”.
Other group members, including the HSE, the Royal College of Physicians, Alcohol Action Ireland and the National Youth Council backed a ban.
The group, chaired by the state’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, was not directed to come down on one side or the other but to present the diverse views to the Minister for Health.
But their report notes that: “It is clear from the information provided that the financial contribution by the alcohol industry to sport in Ireland is very significant. Two of the largest national sporting bodies (FAI and IRFU) maintain that their sporting organisations or structures would not exist without the current support from the alcohol industry.”
It concluded that any actions should be balanced so as not to have a “disproportionate impact on the economy, health and social fabric of Irish society”.
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