Home > Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate. Sponsorship of major sporting events by drinks industry: discussion with FAI, GAA and IRFU.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate. Sponsorship of major sporting events by drinks industry: discussion with FAI, GAA and IRFU. (27 Mar 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/joint_...

Sponsorship of Major Sporting Events by Drinks Industry: Discussion with FAI, GAA and IRFU 

Chairman: The purpose of this morning's engagement is to hear the views of three sporting organisations, the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, the Gaelic Athletic Association, GAA, and the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, on the sponsorship of major sports events by the alcoholic drinks industry. The committee will hold further meetings on this issue with other interested groups next month.

I welcome Mr. Páraic Duffy, árd stiúrthóir of the GAA, Mr. Philip Browne, chief executive of the IRFU, and Mr. John Delaney, chief executive of the FAI. On behalf of the committee I acknowledge the vital role the three organisations play in the activities of a swathe of young people across the country. We very much acknowledge the leadership they have given, particularly at this point in the country's development and given its difficulties.

I wish to draw the delegates' attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I also wish to advise witnesses that any submissions or opening statements they have submitted to the committee will be published on the committee's website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I propose that we will start by hearing the IRFU representative first and we will then take Mr. John Delaney of the FAI followed by Mr. Páraic Duffy of the GAA. After hearing the three presentations we will then go back to the members in the usual format, as already agreed by the committee. I now invite Mr. Browne to address the committee.
Mr. Philip Browne:As chief executive of the Irish Rugby Football Union, I wish to thank the members of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications for the opportunity to discuss the implications of possible legislation banning alcohol sponsorships for major sporting events.

As regards the topic we have been invited here to address, it is our view that the debate is much broader than referred to in the invitation, namely, "the banning of sponsorship of major sporting events by alcohol companies".In reality, this is one element of the proposals being promoted based on a slew of recommendations in the February 2012 steering group report, which refers to the elimination of drinks industry sponsorship of sport in general. Our response is based on these broader proposals facing us.

I would like to start by underlining that the IRFU is committed, through the promotion of sport, to the development of healthy lifestyles and building communities. Indeed, all sports are. Rugby and rugby clubs are an integral part of the social fabric of communities across the length and breadth of this island. They play a significant role, particularly among young people, in fostering the discipline and habit of physical activity, social interaction and the ethos of team involvement.

The IRFU is more than aware of social issues surrounding alcohol misuse, including the consumption of alcohol by minors. As I have said, we are fully committed to playing a constructive role in promoting alcohol awareness and educational programmes, and advocating the responsible use of alcohol. With over 150,000 active playing members and over 9,000 coaches in rugby clubs and schools across the island of Ireland, we are ideally placed to assist the Department of Health to mount major educational campaigns in these communities.

Issues of alcohol misuse and the need for alcohol education are not unique to Ireland and Ireland is not the first country to consider banning alcohol sponsorship in sports. However, let us be absolutely clear on this - in countries where such bans have been introduced, no empirical evidence whatsoever exists that demonstrates a ban on sports sponsorship is effective in terms of reducing alcohol misuse. I would also add that no coherent, evidence-based research exists linking alcohol sponsorship of sports events to alcohol misuse.

As I have stated, the IRFU wishes to work with the Government on these issues. We have recently developed a proposed awareness and education action plan, an approach to the issue of education through sport, on alcohol use and misuse. This document has been presented to the Minister and has been circulated to this committee in advance of today's meeting. It demonstrates the IRFU's clear commitment to putting our extensive network at the disposal of the Government to actually make a long-term impact. I would urge this committee to recommend to the Minister and his Department that they embrace this approach of constructive co-operation, as opposed to unravelling and undermining a system which is already delivering for the health of the nation.

The IRFU believes that the elimination of alcohol sponsorship from sport will simply satisfy a perceived, yet unproven, correlation between it and alcohol misuse, while delivering no concrete benefits to the community at large. The unintended consequences of such an action will be as follows. First, it will significantly reduce the IRFU's annual income, which will unfortunately force an immediate and drastic curtailment of the IRFU's ability to fund participation programmes for children and youths across the country. Second, it will directly hit clubs throughout the country, many of whom are already under severe financial pressures.

Third, it will be a major impediment to the IRFU's and Ireland's ability to mount a credible bid for major international rugby events, including Ireland's bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023. It is a potential bid but something to which we aim and aspire. We have discussed the bid extensively with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and is well within our abilities as an island to achieve.

Fourth, it will impact our ability to fund professional teams both at national and provincial levels, with the consequential loss of competitiveness which will have a negative economic impact in terms of attracting significant numbers of visitors to this country. Furthermore, it will undoubtedly impact our ability to recruit young people into the game.

Let me be absolutely clear, there is no sponsorship white knight waiting in the wings to fill the financial chasm that will be left in every sport, should this proposal be implemented.

We would urge the Government to work towards a long-term, effective solution to the problems of alcohol abuse in this country by channelling the energies and focus of the various State agencies charged with responsibility for the overall health of the population, and in particular children, into one common, evidence-driven programme supported by sporting bodies such as the IRFU.

I thank members of the joint committee for their time and would obviously welcome any questions….

Repository Staff Only: item control page