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Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Sponsorship of sporting events [15270/13].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Sponsorship of sporting events [15270/13]. (27 Mar 2013)

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8. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on alcohol sponsorship of sport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15270/13] 

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring): This question relates to sponsorship of sport by the alcohol industry. I fully support the central aim of the national substance misuse strategy in reducing the level of alcohol consumption and binge drinking. I am very supportive of a number of the measures proposed, including minimum pricing, health warning labels and statutory advertising codes. However, 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 local level.


There are huge and obvious economic, social and health benefits accruing from sport. It is very important that funding is available to sports organisations to ensure that sport is maintained at grassroots level so that as many people as possible can participate. In view of 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.


It is estimated that sport sponsorship by the alcohol industry amounts to around €30 million per year. To place this in context, the Irish Sports Council's budget is just over €40 million. Difficulties currently being experienced by some of our high profile teams and events in securing sponsorship suggest that the funding lost might not readily be replaced by alternative sources. Sports organisations may well be placed in a position where they have to curtail their development programmes, which are crucial to promoting participation at all levels.


I believe that any measures introduced should be evidence-based, effective and reasonable. The evidence from the Government's report, State of the Nation's Children, is that the proportion of young people who do not commence drinking before the age of 18 is growing very substantially in Ireland. This has occurred in an era of greatly increased exposure to sports sponsorship by drinks companies, particularly through high profile tournaments with saturation TV coverage. On the other hand, in France, which has a ban on such sponsorship, the evidence is that drinking by young people is increasing. It is worth mentioning that Great Britain took the failure of the French approach into account in deciding not to ban alcohol sponsorship of sport. Similarly, whatever decision we take should be evidence-based.


Deputy Mick Wallace: With regard to beer consumption among young people, France is starting from a much lower base than us. Beer consumption in Italy has increased in a country that has nothing like the advertising seen in this country. It does not change the fact that we have a far more serious problem. I agree that damaging sport would be problematic because sport is far more of a social benefit than people realise. The Minister of State talks about evidence. If the alcohol industry thought that spending €30 million would not get young people to consume more alcohol, it would not spend it.


These guys make business decisions, not health decisions. Given that alcohol and tobacco abuse and obesity are costing the State in the region of €5.5 billion, will the Minister of State agree that it would make sense for the Government to replace that €30 million in sports sponsorship? I do not mean that sports organisations should do without the money, but where is the joined-up thinking? It costs the Government €5.5 billion to deal with the abuse of alcohol and tobacco. It is, therefore, a no-brainer that it should spend more on sport. Drink companies would not be spending this money on advertising if it was not profitable for them to do so.


Deputy Michael Ring: The Deputy is speaking my language. We all know that the drinking culture presents a serious issue, as does binge drinking. The banning of advertising is one option. However, the Government does not have the means to provide that funding for sport. When the national lottery was set up, the money was to be used for the funding of sport and the arts, but that is not the case. The revenue goes into the Exchequer and my Department has to make a case for its budget each year. The Deputy is aware that the economic position is difficult. Our contribution to the Irish Sports Council is more than €40 million. The allocation has been reduced in the past two years because we simply do not have the resources. For example, we could not find a sponsor for the Irish Open golf championship and Fáilte Ireland had to step into the breach. Funding has been taken away from tourism development. I would love it if there was no drinks company sponsorship of sport, but we have to live in the real world. There is a serious economic crisis. All codes, including rugby, soccer and the GAA, have had great difficulty in securing sponsorship. One organisation could not secure sponsorship to cover the cost of jerseys. Another secured sponsorship but at a much reduced level in these difficult times. It would be preferable if it was not necessary to depend on sponsorship, but if the €30 million is taken away from sport and festivals, we will have a problem.


Deputy Mick Wallace: How can the Minister of State say the Government does not have the money? It provides €40 million for sport, but it provides €5.5 billion in order to deal with the abuse which participation in sport would challenge. I thought the Government was planning to exercise joined-up thinking. Where is that thinking if €5.5 billion can be spent on dealing with the abuse of alcohol and tobacco? It only needs to reduce that amount by 20% to save more than €1 billion. A sum of €40 million is peanuts by comparison.


Deputy Dessie Ellis: This subject was debated at today's meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications which was attended by the chief executive officers of the three main sports of rugby, soccer and the GAA. They have serious concerns about a restriction on advertising and sponsorship. They outlined issues such as the effect on local clubs. In my area it is often the case that a local club will be sponsored by the local pub and fund-raising events for the club are held in the pub. I am caught between whether I agree with a ban on advertising alcohol at matches. Where would we stop? Should McDonald's not be permitted to advertise because it encourages obesity? The same argument applies in the case of fizzy soft drinks. This debate needs a lot more thought.


Deputy Timmy Dooley: Will the Minister of State accept that the introduction of such a ban would be very difficult to police? Many of the televised sports events take place outside the jurisdiction. Therefore, in any ban we would face a difficulty in dealing with content broadcast from other jurisdictions.


Deputy Michael Ring:All of the Deputies are speaking my language. I would love to see the Department of Finance giving us more funding for sport. Governments think in terms of one to five years rather than one to 15 years. The more money that is invested in sport, the healthier society will be. There will be a lower incidence of diabetes and obesity and as the years progress, less money will be needed to deal with health issues. There will be a decreased need for hospitals and nursing staff, if members of society are fitter. Since I became Minister of State with responsibility for sport, the percentage of the population which does not participate in sport has decreased from 16% to 13%. We need to keep working on that number.


The Deputy is correct that it would be difficult to police a ban on the advertising of alcohol at sports events, considering that sports programmes are broadcast from all over the world. For example, when it was banned in France, the consumption of alcohol increased. This proves that the ban did not have the hoped-for influence. As a result of the French experience, Britain decided not to impose a ban. I would much prefer if drink companies were not involved, but the Government does not have the funds. Deputy Dessie Ellis is correct and speaks my language. The bigger professional sports bodies would survive and the grassroots bodies would be the ones to suffer. We do not want that to happen; we want the grassroots bodies to be funded. People do not start at the top of a sport, they start at the bottom. More than ever, there is a need for grassroots sports organisations. Sport has lifts the soul, the mind and the spirit of the people in the past four or five years, despite the economic downturn. We must, therefore, do our best to find the funding for sport.


Deputy Timmy Dooley: We need the Minister of State's oratorial skills.


Deputy Tony McLoughlin: I refer to the participation of young people in sport. In my area Strand Celtic in Strandhill has 300 to 400 young members. The club has banned all sugary drinks and only water is permitted. This is the place in which to start the battle against obesity and the cost to the country. Does the Minister of State have proposals to resist the use and advertisement of sugary drinks?


An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This question is about alcohol.


Deputy Tony McLoughlin: I understand. However, sugary drinks present a major issue which has been brought to my attention by many clubs.


Deputy Michael Ring: The Department of Health is active in this regard. However, the Departments of Education and Skills and Transport, Tourism and Sport also have a significant role to play. I agree that young people must be educated about what they eat and drink in order to have a fitter and healthier society. We need to get people walking and to be health conscious. The Departments co-operate in discussions and at committees on actions needed to educate young people and everyone else to ensure their health and well-being. 

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