Sport and arts event chiefs fear last orders for alcohol funding


Battle begins after key report urges phasing out sector support for sport and big public events

MOST MAJOR arts, sports and cultural events on the Irish calendar would not happen if the drinks industry was banned from sponsoring them, both the industry and events organisers have warned.

Four members of Government – Ministers Pat Rabbitte, Leo Varadkar, Jimmy Deenihan and Simon Coveney – have also raised concerns about a proposal published last week to phase out through legislation drinks industry sponsorship of sport and other large public events by 2016.

The plan was contained in the Report from the Steering Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy.The steering group was chaired by the Department of Health and had input from the drinks industry as well as justice and social interests.

Publishing the report last week, chief medical officer Tony Honohan said: “We need to break that sense of relationship between participation in sport and the access that can sometimes provide for advertising of alcohol and consumption of alcohol, in particular to younger people.”

There is no doubt, says Fiona Ryan, of Alcohol Action Ireland, “that the drinks industry is piggy- backing on events that have positive associations for young people, that suggest cool, beautiful and sexy. Sports events suggest virility, fitness, winning – perfect for giving that feel-good mood to young men.”

The drinks industry is, according to Anthony Foley of DCU’s business school, the main sponsor of festivals and a substantial sponsor of sports events. Among those he lists are the Absolut Fringe Festival, the Bulmers Comedy Festival, the Guinness Jazz Festival, the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, the Heineken European Rugby Cup, the Carling Nations Cup, the Guinness Punchestown Gold Cup and the Guinness sponsorship of the GAA hurling championship.

Kathryn D’Arcy, director of the the Alcohol and Beverage Federation of Ireland, says there is “no causal link” between sponsorship and alcohol misuse, and there are “very strict, rigidly enforced regulations” limiting under-18s exposure to alcohol advertising.

Compliance is monitored independently by the Alcohol Monitoring Communications Marketing Body. Its most recent report recorded “overall compliance with the regulations in 2010”.

D’Arcy argues strongly that alcohol sponsorship does not encourage alcohol abuse or target underage drinkers and that sponsorship is simply about raising brand profile among responsible adults, as any product maker should be entitled to.

Events organisers are concerned at the plans to ban sponsorship.

Joanne O’Hagan, chief executive of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, said the support of Jameson and Irish Distillers Ltd-Pernod Ricard was “absolutely vital” to its future.

“In particular, in the midst of a prolonged economic downturn, it is impossible to see how our event could continue in the absence of their support.”

A spokesman for the Irish Rugby Football Union said the removal of sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry “will not contribute in any meaningful way to solving the problems of alcohol misuse in Ireland”.

However, the fact that the major sporting organisation in the State, the GAA, has sponsorship from nine non-alcohol organisations, in addition to its “valuable” relationship with Guinness, suggests there could be life after the drinks industry.

Fiona Ryan describes as “disingenuous” the argument of no linkage between sponsorship and alcohol misuse.

“The situation is far more complex. Sponsorship is part of a subtle, long-term strategy where the brand’s association with an event reinforces the impact of advertising. And young minds are especially susceptible to the power of image, suggestion, association.

“The constant sight of alcohol brands at events young people enjoy normalises drinking, encourages an aspiration to drink and reinforces an expectation to drink, especially among young people.”

The World Health Organisation and the European Commission- funded English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (Elsa) project both agree.

In its 2009 report Evidence for the Effectiveness and Cost- Effectiveness of Interventions to Reduce Alcohol-related Harm,the WHO said: “Total marketing strategy is multi-level . . . Young people with more positive affective responses to alcohol advertising hold more favourable drinking expectations.”

A 2007 Elsa report, The Impact of Alcohol Advertising,said young people who liked alcohol advertising believed positive consequences of drinking were likely, that their peers drank more frequently and that they approved of drinking.

“All of these beliefs interacted to produce a greater likelihood of drinking and of intention to drink within the next year.”

As to the argument that the drinks industry should be allowed to profile its product at events as any other producers should, Ryan quotes the steering group report.

“Alcohol is no ordinary commodity,” she says. “If they were selling televisions or cereals that would be fine, but alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is killing 88 Irish people a month, contributing to half of all suicides, playing a major role in child abuse, family breakdown, domestic violence and crime, and is costing the taxpayer €3.4 billion a year.

“Why should we facilitate that?”


FRANCE HAS one of the most restrictive approaches in Europe to alcohol advertising. Since it was passed in 1991, the landmark loi Évin – named after Claude Évin, the health minister who proposed it – has strictly curtailed the ways in which both alcohol and tobacco producers can advertise.

Defining an alcoholic beverage as any drink over 1.2 per cent alcohol, the law stated that: no advertising should be targeted at young people; no advertising is allowed on television or in cinemas; no sponsorship of cultural or sports events is permitted; and advertising is permitted only in print media outlets aimed at adults, on billboards in certain locations, on radio, and at special events such as wine fairs. Where advertising is permitted, the content is tightly controlled. Images should refer only to the products’ qualities, and a message must be included on each advert to inform consumers alcohol abuse is dangerous.

Since 1991, the law has been loosened. Advertising is again permitted on all billboards everywhere, even in sports grounds, although the ban on TV transmission restrains advertising for major events. Some producers push the law to its limits, and a number of them have been prosecuted for breaching the rules.

While alcohol consumption in France declined by 20 per cent between 1990 and 2008, it is impossible to assess any link with the loi Évin. The new rules did bring about radical change in how producers speak to their customers, however. The language of alcohol advertising has changed. Campaigns can no longer use images of drinkers or depict a drinking atmosphere, so ads have become less seductive and tend now to focus on the product itself.

The law also disrupted the relationship between the alcohol industry and sports organisers. Despite pressure from lobbyists, the loi Évin was rigorously upheld for the 1998 World Cup, making it impossible for alcohol companies to sponsor the tournament. In France, the Heineken Cup – the primary competition in European rugby – is called the H-Cup. - RUADHÁN MAC CORMAIC