U-turn on alcohol sponsors in sport ‘spineless’

Government moves to back away from banning sponsorship of sport by alcohol brands would be "spineless", a former GAA president has warned.

Mick Loftus expressed alarm after ministers looked set to abandon plans to end drinks giants using major sports events for publicity.

A Cabinet sub-committee will examine the issue on Monday, but sources say the bid to ban sponsorship will be dropped.

Dr Loftus, who led the GAA from 1985-1987, said the Government’s weakness would continue to foster a culture linking alcohol and healthy activity.

“I can’t believe they are not going to impose the ban, alcohol does so much damage,” said Dr Loftus. “It will be spineless of them.

“Sponsorship of sport creates this culture that you cannot enjoy life without a drink, which is wrong and leads to problems like binge drinking.

“As a doctor and a former coroner, I know first-hand the damage alcohol does. Eighty-eight people a month die in this country due to alcohol related reasons. If that number of people were dying any other way they would be taking all sorts of action to try and stop it, but instead they are promoting it.

“If money comes before people, then it’s a sad day.

“This country has a major problem with alcohol, 1.3m to 1.4m are harmful drinkers, while 150,000 are dependent.”

Former junior health minister Roisín Shortall argued strongly to end the link between alcohol and sport when she was in Government and accused her former colleagues of giving in to drinks giants.

“They have put the interests of big business ahead of health interests and that is disgraceful,” she said. “This is a major climbdown. A weak Government provides weak leadership.

“Some €20m goes into sport from alcohol funding, and if they had phased that out over a number of years, as was originally planned, it would have allowed plenty of time for organisations to find alternative sources.”

However, drinks sponsors will not be allowed to get involved with child-centred sports events.

Legislation to cover alcohol pricing, which may end cut-price promotions and advertising, will be unveiled later this year in the Public Health Alcohol Bill.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said a ban on sponsorship would only work if alternative funding was available for sports bodies.

Mr Varadkar, who opposed the ban on alcohol sponsorship while sports minister, said it was unfair to target sport, and not music and culture events as well.

With a voluntary agreement on sports sponsorship set to be given legal teeth, Mr Varadkar insisted he was committed to reducing alcohol consumption.

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