At yesterday’s launch of the Irish Sports Council (ISC) grants for 2012, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne and GAA director general Páraic Duffy joined ISC chairman Kieran Mulvey in opposing the recommendation.
Under the guidance of Minister for State for Drug Policy Roisín Shortall, a Department of Health expert group last month proposed drinks-industry sponsorship of sport be phased out by 2016. It has found little support from some Government TDs such as Minister of State for Sport and Tourism Michael Ring, who announced the grants in Dublin.
With Guinness sponsoring their Autumn Internationals and the IRFU enjoying other associations with alcohol companies such as Bushmills and Heineken, Browne is understandably against the recommendation.
“This is simply not the right time to be pulling a major source of funding for Irish sport away from us. It is a much more complicated argument than maybe is being portrayed. There is a significant amount of investment from the food and beverage industry in all sport and, effectively, it is being used to fund the development of, and the participation in, all sports. If we pull that, we will end up reducing the numbers who participate in sport and that has major knock-ons for the health of the nation.
“It is a multi-layered and complex issue that can’t simply be dealt in one dimension. We understand the issues when it comes to alcohol in sport, and misuse and alcohol abuse. The reality is sports organisations have a role to play in educating our youth in relation to the issue. I would rather see the powers that be working in partnership with sporting organisations on this issue, rather than taking a fairly one-dimensional and blunt approach.”
Guinness is the GAA’s sole headline alcohol sponsor, but Duffy believes talk of a ban is inopportune when sports are experiencing funding issues.
“The view of all the sports organisations is that this is not the time to do that. I’m not sure it will ever be right but certainly when funding has been reduced as we’ve heard and with all sports bodies finding it harder to attract sponsors this is not the time. We all know how to work in terms of a positive attitude to alcohol. We’re all involved in that and will continue to be. But it’s not the time to say ‘you can’t accept sponsorships’.
Pointing out that now was not the time for such measures when sports organisations can’t replace the funding, Mulvey also delivered a strong message in his statement at the launch.
“Any severe restrictions on any form of sponsorship could have serious implications for sports funding, stadia and sporting events. I hope this debate will generate a reasoned degree of discussion on this issue and bring a sense of balance to the debate.”
Meanwhile, Duffy warned some GAA coaching vacancies might not be filled if ISC grant allocations continue to be cut. The three major sports organisations all saw their budgets roughly cut by 10%. The GAA saw their 2011 allocation of €2.97 million cut to €2.7m this year, while the FAI saw theirs drop by €362,000 (€3.352m to €2.90m) and the IRFU’s fall from €2.911m last year to €2.61m.
“We employ coaches to go into schools all over the country with funding from the Sports Council along with our own funding,” said Duffy.
“What we’ve done so far is not let anyone go. We have kept by and large the same number of coaches and putting in effect more GAA money. We’ve contracts ending at the end of the year and so on but there’s no question of letting anyone go. I think we’ve got to a point where we’ll probably have to review. It’s not going to make a huge difference. With people retiring, moving on and so on, you’re not going to make people redundant.
“You mightn’t replace people at some point in time but clearly if funding continues to fall you’ll have to look at that.”
The ISC themselves saw their budget cut from €47m in 2011 to €44.5m this year with the high performance budget left untouched at €10.5m as athletes up their preparations for the forthcoming Olympic Games.
The ISC also launched a new three-year strategic plan with goals of advancing participation, developing the capacity of the national governing body sector and sustaining the high performance system. By 2020, they aim to have 45% of adults participating in sports in some form.