To ban or not to ban?

Eoghan Dalton takes a look at the pros and cons of banning alcohol sponsorship in sport.

An old standard has cropped up once again in the Irish news sphere. Alcohol companies sponsoring sporting events continues to be an issue that divides opinion. Recent reports would suggest that the Government is on the verge of introducing legislation prohibiting sponsorship by 2020. A move such as this could prove a serious blow to funding as it is believed that sponsorship is worth roughly €20 million a year to sports federations. Ministers in favour of the controversial ban will then be faced with the task of finding alternative methods of raising finance, if they continue to proceed with the proposed legislation.

While many politicians support the ban because of the social implications of having alcohol so prominent in sporting matters, the financial gains of having booze sponsored events cannot be ignored either.  Irish drugs and alcohol research totals the cost to the State dealing with alcohol-related harm at over €3bn per year. A decrease in this figure would be more than welcome of course, but a drop in that heavy sum may be negligible. As for finding a solution to the alternative funding dilemma, it appears as though the seven year delay in legislation coming into effect is to help the Government weigh up other possibilities. Some solutions offered so far include placing levies on off-license sales and taxing the sale of beverages, such as Alcopops. Other methods that may be used include placing a ban on the below-cost sales of alcohol, which costs the State approximately €21m annually.

Opponents to the ban appear to fall into two categories; those who believe more should be done to combat the alcohol problem in Ireland and those who believe in a more practical route in finding a compromise. On the former’s side, campaigners believe that an ”addiction” fund should be the first step towards solving the problem. This would entail the money received from sports funding, with arts and cultural groups being gathered and funnelled into a central fund to tackle alcohol abuse. Sports organisations are also being encouraged to get involved in programmes in communities that prioritise social inclusion, with the hope of reducing alcohol abuse, especially among the youth.

On the other side of the debate, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar, has expressed concern that sports funding could be lost if the ban goes ahead. For instance, the IRFU’s desire to host the 2023 World Cup would be severely damaged if the alcohol ban is introduced. Mr. Varadkar and his fellow campaigners believe that if the ban is to work, it must be done on a pan-European basis so Irish sport is not left at a disadvantage on the world stage. Codes of practice on alcohol consumption in stadiums and training for those involved in marketing and selling alcohol at sports events have been upgraded, although little indication has been provided on how these guidelines tend to work. A final point to consider is the example of France, where alcohol consumption has increased since a similar ban was enforced. These points have all been raised by Mr Varadkar and an Oireachtas committee set up to deal with the matter. Whatever happens, the debate is likely to rumble on for the foreseeable future.