Ireland Considering Ban on Sports-Related Alcohol Sponsorship

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Irish officials are currently mulling a proposal by the Department of Health that would terminate the presence of alcohol companies in sports sponsorship.  Newly elected Minister of State for Primary Care, Alex White, drafted a memorandum last month that called for a gradual phasing out of the drinks industry that is so heavily involved in the state’s premier sporting events.  His plan would entirely detach alcohol sponsorship and sports by the year 2020, and ban the establishment of any new sponsorship deals beyond 2016.

Opposition against the proposed ban is gaining momentum among domestic sporting organizations.  The Irish Sports Council believes Ireland’s ability to compete on the international sporting stage will be destroyed if the Government proceeds with plans to ban alcohol companies from sponsoring major sporting events.  The most successful Irish sports organization stands to lose the most in this situation.  Alcohol-related sponsorship is pivotal the success of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), with an estimated value of € 9 million.  The Union will be unable to compete to keep the top players currently playing for the Irish clubs that have proven to be worldwide competitors at the Heineken Cup.   

It is important to note the link between alcohol sponsorship and sport extends beyond the country’s premier sports leagues.  Local pubs across Ireland regularly sponsor local sports clubs by providing gear marked with their logo.  By and large, these deals are not built in the financial interest of the pub, but as a testament of commitment to the local community.  The proposed ban would eliminate this type of goodwill funding that provides so much value for the youth in the country.  Athletic competition across the spectrum would suffer a fatal blow were this type of sponsorship to be prohibited.

Supporters of the ban believe as alcohol moves out of sport, other companies will move in to fill the sponsorship void.  Current evidence, however, suggests otherwise.  Take for example the annual Irish Open, which for the third straight year is left without a title sponsor despite its worldwide appeal and star-studded cast, including world top-ten performers Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.  And what about the 2013 World Cup champion women’s rugby squad? They too are in the midst of a desperate search for funding. 

Adequate patronage presents itself far too infrequently for Ireland to render alcohol companies castaways in the sea of sponsorship.  They instead need to facilitate a RESPONSIBLE relationship between drink and sport.  NASCAR provides an ideal example of healthy participation by alcohol companies in sport.   Teams sponsored by liquor companies are required to run responsible drinking campaigns both on the track and in the media.  Jack Daniels, for example, displays “Pace Yourself. Drink Responsibly.” on their sprint car and flies a waving yellow flag warning drinkers on their section of the NASCAR website. 

In a country where the mantra “Drink Responsibly.” is too often superseded by “Drink Relentlessly.” conscientious alcohol sponsorship provides the perfect opportunity to educate people of Ireland about alcohol use and abuse.  

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