Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Dr Leo Varadkar, has highlighted his concerns that the introduction of a ban on alcohol sponsorship will have detrimental effect on Irish Sport, impacting both on the development of sport and opportunities available for people to partake in sport.
Dr Varadkar was responding to several parliamentary questions raised on Tuesday in relation to initiatives soon to be presented to government by Minister of State Alex White, which it is thought may see a proposal to ban alcohol sponsorship of sport.
Minister Varadkar confirmed that he was full supportive of measures to reduce levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking he said: “I am concerned that placing constraints on sporting organisations by eliminating the alcohol industry as a source of sponsorship will have negative impacts on the development and availability of sport and consequently on our efforts to maintain and increase sporting participation at a local level.”
He continued: “In view of the the current economic constraints, Government investment in sport has had to be reduced in recent years. The imposition of a ban on sponsorship would further undermine the efforts of sporting organisations to be self-sufficient”
Minister Varadkar stated that it is estimated that alcohol sponsorship is worth €30m per year which, he put in context of the Irish Sports Council”s budget of just over €40 million for the current year. He also said that current difficulties being experienced by high profile teams and events suggest that this funding would not be easily replaced.
He believed that any measures introduced should be evidenced based, effective and proportionate. He also stated the need for consideration be given to the downside of any decision that might be made. Minister Varadkar stated that there was no evidence to show that a ban on sponsorship would be effective in terms of reducing alcohol consumption amongst youths. Reference was made to a recent European study which showed an increase in the number of youths in France who had admitted to having fiver or more drinks in one day over the course of the last 30 days despite the presence of such a ban on alcohol sponsorship there.
Minister Varadkar also referenced the reality that Irish teams were involved in international competition that would continue to be sponsored by alcohol companies and that all the introduction of such a ban here would do was deprive those Irish bodies of their proportion of the sponsorship monies.
Minister Varadkar did offer his alternative to a prohibition saying: “My preference is for the introduction of a voluntary system, such as currently exists in Australia, where the Department of Health would compensate sporting organisations who voluntarily give up such sponsorship and moving to the introduction of a ban only when it is shown that money lost can be replaces through alternative sponsors. Certainly, I do not think that the Government should impose such a law without fully compensating sports organisations for the revenue lost in the same way we compensated political parties where corporate and private donations were restricted.”
The Federation of Irish Sport has previously raised concerns with government about the detrimental effect such a ban would have on Irish Sport in light of the current funding environment. This is especially so given that, unlike other areas of the voluntary sector, sport does not qualify for charitable status and therefore does not, benefit from the same tax reliefs in respect of donations that often serve as an incentive for private sector investment.
The Federation has emphasised at all times that Irish Sport fully recognises the significant health and social challenges faced by Irish society from alcohol misuse. However, rather than introducing a ban the Federation of Irish Sport feels that a better way to deal with the underlying issues created by alcohol misuse would be to examine how Irish Sport and its wide network, stretching to every community in the country, could be best used to assist the government in the implementation of its strategy to tackle responsible alcohol usage and other public health issues.