GAA’s drink link flak ‘unfair and illogical’

THE GAA are not prepared to behave like ‘wimps’ and abandon Guinness’ sponsorship of the hurling championship merely because of the dissatisfaction of Micheal Martin with the partnership, president Sean Kelly declared last night.

Mr Kelly was speaking after the brewery giant announced a further two-year extension to their sponsorship.

"We felt there was no justification at this time to pull the plug, just because a small number of people are not happy with it," he said.

"The minister is alleged to have said he wasn't happy with our sponsorship. But to pick one and then for us to really be wimps and to go and say we won't have the sponsorship any more would be disloyal for an organisation built on loyalty. Guinness have been very good to us and the proof of the pudding is there for everyone to see.

"I don't know why the minister said it. All I know is what I read in the papers. No one from the Government ever got on to us. If there was a real concern I'm sure they would have approached us formally."

Mr Kelly pointed out that the Task Force he set up to examine alcohol abuse in society was in favour of the link with Guinness being maintained. "This committee, under the chairmanship of former Galway captain Joe Connolly, will be reporting shortly, but we didn't move ahead with the two-year extension until we got the go ahead from them. And we will utilise the sponsorship to help fund projects they are recommending so that we, in partnership with Guinness, can help alleviate the abuse of alcohol. There has to be a distinction drawn in society between alcohol that's good for you and the abuse of alcohol, which is bad for people.

We are conscious that some people are opposed to the sponsorship, but from my calculations I would say that 80% to 90% of people see the value of it and support it. They see the positive aspects of it and the responsible approach adopted by Guinness."

Mr Kelly said that in his estimation, there were up to 500 events in this country sporting and festival which had an association with drinks sponsorship. Yet the only one that seemed to be criticised was the hurling sponsorship. In his view that was 'totally unfair and illogical'.

Guinness sponsorship manager Michael Whelan described the two-year extension as 'sensible', agreeing that 'with a lot of talk going on', it would allow people time to consider the issues involved. He pointed out that there was a Government task force examining alcohol abuse and the company itself was engaged in a number of initiatives. Looking to the future, he said he expected that the right decision would be made by the right people and at the right time.

He said they weren't concerned about internal dissatisfaction within the GAA. "The way we look at it, most of our consumers are supporters of hurling as well. We listen to them and we know the vast majority of them are happy with what we are doing."

Brian Duffy, managing director of Diageo (the Guinness holding company) initially launched the tenth year of the sponsorship which will see the total spend since the inaugural year in 1995 total 25m. by the end of the season. He described the last decade as a 'revitalising and exciting' one for hurling and the game itself.

"Whilst our contracts in the past have tended to run for five years, we believe that a period of two years will fully facilitate the consideration and implementation of the findings of the GAA's special task force into the matters of substance and alcohol abuse.

"We also believe that during that period most if not all of the understandable concerns of some of the members will be allayed," he said.

Mr Kelly said that despite what people felt about hurling having a low base, six different counties had won the championship over the course of the decade, compared to seven in football. That compares more than favourably with any competition you look at worldwide, for example the 'highly-vaunted' Premiership in England.

According to Mr Kelly, the Sam Maguire Cup was carried all over Tyrone and beyond and 'not once' was it associated with alcohol.

"That's what we want to see with all cups. There is a place for alcohol, but over-abusing it is not the way to do it and filling cups is something that's outdated," he said.

He revealed that they hadn't negotiated with any other companies before agreeing the extension. He expressed confidence that they would have 'no difficulty' getting sponsorship for any of their competitions including the hurling championship or the football championship!

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