Representatives of the drinks industry and sporting organisations clashed with Independent TD Luke “Ming” Flanagan, who described alcohol sponsorship of sport as “twisted” at an Oireachtas committee meeting yesterday.
However, the Olympian and Fine Gael Senator Eamon Coughlan said he "only had one pint of Guinness in my life" despite using facilities funded by the brand when he was a young athlete.
The Transport and Communications Committee invited the Federation of Irish Sport, Horse Racing Ireland and the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland to discuss the implications of possible legislation to ban the sponsorship of major sporting events.
The value of sponsorship was €35 million last year, according to Sarah O’Shea of the Federation of Irish Sport, while the Irish Sports Council’s total budget for 2013 was just over €43 million.
A ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events would be a “blunt and crude” measure, Brian Kavanagh of Horse Racing Ireland said. It would mean a loss of at least €1 million a year for Irish racing.
Peter O’Brien of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland insisted there was no link between alcohol misuse and sponsorship. Mr O’Brien said “broad, populist, unproven and anti-business initiatives” would not address alcohol misuse.
Mr Flanagan said he thought there should be a “total and utter” ban on alcohol sponsorship, “whether that be in sport or other walks of life”. He understood that money was needed but it should be acquired in another way. “It is twisted the idea that you would have alcohol and sport connected,” he said.
“What’s damaging Irish sport is the fact that young lads can’t get up on a Sunday morning because they’ve been on the beer all Saturday night.”
Mr Coughlan said he disagreed with Mr Flanagan. “As a young boy growing up I used to go to the Guinness pool which helped to promote swimming. I used to go to the Iveagh grounds which was sponsored by Guinness,” he said.
“I only had one pint of Guinness in my life and I was never influenced by Guinness’s association with sports.”
Mr Coughlan said the people who were not participating in sport were the ones who were also abusing alcohol the most. He believed sport was being “hung out to dry”.