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Ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports in doubt

By Ann Marie Foley - 28 January, 2015

Coordinator of Irish Bishops Drugs Initiative concerned that the Govt is putting the needs of big business ahead of the health of young people.

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The Government may be preparing to drop a proposal for a clause that would ban alcoholic drinks companies from sponsoring sports.

The heads of the Public Health (Alcohol Bill) were to be published in January.

However, it has been reported that the ministers for health and sport are considering dropping a clause in the Bill which would eventually allow for the banning of alcohol sponsorship of sports.

Darren Butler, Coordinator of the Irish Bishops Drugs Initiative, told CatholicIreland.net that he was awaiting full details.

He said he would be very disappointed if the Government put the needs of big business ahead of the health of young people in Ireland.

“When I read the headline I was fairly shocked because of the work that had been carried out in 2012 with the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group. They put three years into that work, to show that the evidence was there that sponsorship of sports (by alcohol companies) does affect young people and would encourage them (to drink),” Darren Butler said.

“It seems like a big turnaround in the Government’s thinking. Certainly everyone in community work and the medical professionals felt it was a deal that was pretty much done. So it was a shocking disappointment when I read that they seem to be rowing back on it.”

He would like to hear more from the Government as to the reasons why.

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The banning of alcohol sponsorship of sport has been debated for many years and the Government’s National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group, after three years’ research and discussion, published its report in February 2012.

The group included representatives from the community, medical groups, and government departments who recommended that alcohol sponsorship of sports and other events be phased out by 2016.

That date has since been extended to 2020. However, until now it was a case of ‘when’ the recommendation would be implemented rather than ‘if’.

The Steering Group report in its first chapter states that:
-exposure to alcohol advertising and promotion predicts both the onset of drinking among young non-drinkers and an increased level of drinking among existing young drinkers.
– Irish 16–21 year olds list alcohol advertisements as five of their top ten favourite advertisements.
– four in ten 16–21 year olds have an alcohol branded item of clothing, with 26 per cent owning a rugby/football jersey that has an alcohol brand logo.

Darren Butler has lots of anecdotal evidence that concurs with the findings of the steering group.

“We have worked with young people around confirmation time and done some awareness and education programmes with them. Sponsorship (by drinks companies) in some other countries is gone, but some of the young people still remember.”

“If you showed them a Liverpool jersey they could tell you that Carlsberg sponsored the team by the jersey without the brand on it. It is in their minds. If I asked them tell me some of the coolest adverts on TV they will pick Coors Light and Guinness.”

It has been reported that the Government and ministers involved are concerned that without drinks companies no other sponsorship or funding is available to sports.

“You would like to think that the economy is moving on and that we need not be depending on drinks companies,” said Darren Butler.

“It would be disappointing to think that we rely on the drinks so much that down the line we cannot put a date on banning drinks advertising in sports. I do agree it is something that should be phased out but maybe the government need to use their talents a little bit more and see how they can replace sponsorship.”

The main areas of the proposed Bill are expected to be:
– minimum unit pricing of alcohol to make “cheap alcohol less cheap”;
– calorie and health warning labeling on alcohol;
– the structural separation of alcohol from other goods in shops and supermarkets;
– some advertising and sponsorship restrictions.

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