While there are compelling arguments in favour of banning sponsorship of sports events by the drinks industry, the proposal for a ban by 2016 seems destined to be long-fingered.
Effectively having been forced on health grounds to confront the sponsorship question, the Government has been neatly let off the hook by an Oireachtas committee report which comes down squarely against the imposition of a ban in the current economic climate.
Giving what many will interpret as a mere nod to the anxieties of medical experts, it bluntly concludes that any decision be put off until an alternative source of funding is found. Basically it argues that the main sporting organisations would suffer inordinately if alcohol sponsorship was outlawed.
Doubtless the GAA, IRFU, FAI and other organisations will not only welcome this report, they will loudly applaud it. So too will the major alcohol companies whose products are household names in this country and around the world.
Whether at international or parish level, it would be hard to measure the positive influence that sports organisations and the outstanding men and women that represent them have had on the wellbeing of the nation. Psychologically, when national or local teams win, the mood becomes upbeat.
There is no denying that the millions the drinks industry has poured into sporting groups have played a significant role in boosting sports activities in Ireland, but it is somewhat hypocritical of sports bodies to be encouraging a healthy lifestyle while taking money from an industry whose products can lead to alcoholism, family violence, death on the roads, and cancer.
The cost of Ireland’s love affair with booze and its appalling affect on the health of the nation has been truly enormous. Medical professionals and concerned individuals have long campaigned for sports sponsorship by the drinks industry to be banned. They have every reason to be bitterly disappointed with the report from the committee. The Government should not forget that a key aim of alcohol sponsorship for both sports and cultural activities is to attract young people to drink, which all too often can lead to alcohol abuse and binge drinking at a frighteningly early age.
Ironically, a 2010 government-commissioned report on substance abuse called for a ban on sponsorship of sports and other events by drinks companies. However, discouraging an early decision on barring sponsorship by the industry, yesterday’s report suggested a ban should only be imposed here on the basis of European-wide prohibition to ensure Irish sports groups do not suffer unduly on the international front. But the prospect of pan-European prohibition seems remote considering alcohol consumption in 35 countries was nearly double the global average three years ago.
The proposal of an addiction fund to help reduce alcohol abuse, with a percentage of sponsorship funding to sporting, cultural, and arts bodies ring-fenced for the fund, is merely a sop for the anti-sponsorship lobby.
The challenge confronting the Government is to weigh up the horrendous health repercussions of alcohol use against the cost of allowing the drinks industry to continue sponsoring sports organisations here. Politically the solution offered by the Oireachtas committee is a convenient cop-out designed to facilitate putting off the inevitable. The Coalition should start phasing in a sponsorship ban now.
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