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Leo Varadkar (centre), with the IRFU's Philip Browne and the ERC's Derek McGrath and the Heineken Cup - an example of alcohol sponsorship in sport. INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Varadkar remains uneasy about banning alcohol sponsorship of sport

The cabinet minister responsible for sport says sponsorship – through whatever means – is vital for grassroots sport.

THE CABINET MINISTER responsible for sport in Ireland has again expressed reservations at proposals to outlaw sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies.

Leo Varadkar, whose tourism brief also includes responsibility for sport, has said a legal ban on alcoholic sponsorship of sports events would have negative consequences for both sport and tourism.

“One of the goals of my Department is to contribute to a healthier and more active society by promoting sports participation,” Varadkar said, in response to parliamentary questions from FG’s Anthony Lawlor and FF’s John McGuinness.

“However, it is 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.”

Varadkar said he also believed sport actively helped divert young people away from alcohol, and that this role was dependant on the financial support that sporting organisations secured through sponroship.

“I am concerned that placing constraints on the sporting organisations by eliminating the alcohol industry as a source of sponsorship will have a negative impact on the development and availability of sport, particularly in the current economic climate,” he said.

Ban ‘could put Irish teams at disadvantage’

The minister also pointed out that many sporting events which were supported by alcohol advertising, and in which Irish teams took part, were international events – and said banning alcohol sponsorship in Ireland would only mean that any Irish team could not share in the advertising income, even if other teams were getting some.

An example of this is rugby union’s Heineken Cup, the top-level competition in European club rugby, which must be called the ‘H-Cup’ in France where alcohol advertising is forbidden under the so-called ‘Loi Evin’.

The rule means the French rugby federation, French teams and broadcasters miss out on potential advertising revenue which is available to rivals in other jurisdictions.

“I also note that Britain, having recognised the failure of the ‘Loi Evin’ in France to reduce alcohol consumption by young people, decided not to ban alcohol sponsorship of sport for evidence based reasons,” Varadkar said.

Varadkar’s comments came only a day after the new junior minister with responsibility for alcohol abuse, Alex White, told the Seanad he was committed to implementing the findings of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group – which included phasing out alcohol sponsorship of sporting and other public events by 2016.

White told Senators that the government’s agenda was “to protect and improve the health of Irish people on foot of the recommendations that have been made”.

Varadkar and White’s predecessor, Róisín Shortall, had notably disagreed over the prospect of banning alcohol advertising in sport before Shortall ultimately resigned, citing a lack of support for her aims.

Read: Is Ireland on the verge of a whiskey revival?

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