Running legend and senator Eamonn Coghlan said sport was being left “hung out to dry” under the plans, while fellow committee member Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan said alcohol sponsorship had a “corrosive” effect on sport.
The Oireachtas Transport Committee was told by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland that the €30m-€40m it spent on sports and events sponsorship per year resulted in a €500m boost to local economies.
The Federation of Irish Sport, representing 100 organisations, told members there was “no alternative” to the €35m spent by the drinks industry on sports sponsorship every year.
Chief executive Sarah O’Connor said State funding had fallen from €311m in 2008 to €54m this year. “Irish sport is firmly of the view that a ban on alcohol sponsorship will have a detrimental effect on Irish sport.” Ms O’Connor said 40,000 jobs were supported by the sports industry and that sporting events brought in some €850m in tourism receipts.
The ban on sponsorship — being considered by the Government as part of a new action plan on alcohol — has been the subject of three separate hearings, ending yesterday, at the committee.
Ms O’Connor said the ban would have a “significant impact” on attracting international sports events to Ireland, including the Volvo Ocean Race, the Ryder Cup and the European Rugby Cup final — all of which, she said, were dependant on alcohol sponsorship.
Brian Kavanagh of Horse Racing Ireland said the drinks industry not only brought much-needed funding but also marketing expertise, which was crucial in promoting events like Galway Racing Week. He said an error had been made in the assumption the ban would affect drinking levels.
Peter O’Brien, chair of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland, said the sector brought in €2 billion in tax revenue every year and employed 62,000 people. He said not only would sport suffer but also cultural events like the Jameson International Film Festival, the Cork Jazz Festival and the Bulmers Comedy Festival.
He rejected evidence from health professionals that sponsorship led to greater consumption. He said the beer sector — a major sponsor — had seen its sales fall by 9%, while the wine sector, which doesn’t sponsor, saw its sales grow by 13%.
Mr O’Brien also rejected submissions of a “runaway drinking culture”, saying consumption had dropped by 19% in the last decade. He said the industry was spending €4m a year on drinkaware.ie and claimed that the sector was the “only ones educating people on alcohol”.
Terence Flanagan TD said the €4m spent on “discouraging” drinking was dwarfed by the €35m spent on encouraging drinking.