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Column: Why I went to the hurling final (after boycotting for years)

Former GAA president Dr Mick Loftus explains why he ended his self-imposed ban.

Dr Mick Loftus

Tomorrow, Galway will face Kilkenny in the replay of the All-Ireland hurling final which ended in a draw earlier this month.

Former GAA president Dr Mick Loftus went to that match, after boycotting the event for years. Here he explains why.

THE SELF-IMPOSED ban from attending the All-Ireland Hurling Final was simply to protest at the acceptance of sponsorship of the occasion by an alcoholic drinks company.

My reason was because for the past number of years – even the past decade – I have objected strenuously to the promotion and glamourisation of alcohol through advertising and sponsorship, about which I was seriously concerned.

This concern was because of my experience as coroner for North Mayo for 30 years, and the number of inquests I presided over of suicides and road traffic accidents due to alcoholl; and to see the associated heartbreak and misery of families and friends.

As a GP I had the opportunity to see how alcohol seriously affects families in many ways, destroying individuals (there are some one hundred thousand alcoholics in Ireland); not to mention the profound effects on health.

Because I had a personal privileged position in the GAA, I was able to make my disapproval of the sponsorship clear by staying away from the most important prestigious occasion on the Croke Park calender.

Belief

Through sponsorship, particularly of sport, drinks companies increase sales thereby further aggravating the ill effects of alcohol.

Sponsorship is the fastest growing medium in the advertising world. Sports sponsorship is a gem of an idea, whereby one can exploit the loyalty fans have to their sport, not least their idols. The drinks industry is keen to associate alcohol with sport; it links alcohol with sporting prowess, fitness and success. It make alcohol part of the event – the sport, the drink, the spectator become one. It reinforces the belief by young people that alcohol improves mood and contributes to social success.

By attending I felt that indirectly I would be supporting the sponsorship.

These are some of the reasons for which I imposed the ban, as the drinks company had become the event’s main sponsor.

My decision to end the boycott was not taken easily. Some people may interpret the decision as a climbdown, but nothing could be further from the truth.

  1. When I first commenced my boycott there was only one sponsor. Now there are three, and the main sponsor may have to bow to increasing pressure from the public.
  2. The former junior minister for health, Roisin Shorthall published a bill in which she calls for a ban on advertising and sponsorship of sport by drinks companies.
  3. The All-Ireland Hurling Final is a very special occasion, and perhaps selfishly I felt the urge to join my colleagues, past Presidents and so on whose personal friendship and loyal camaraderie I have always enjoyed. As I grew older, it is a pity to be denied such a privilege.

Finally, I say I have changed my mind. And if God spares me I will continue to campaign against the blatant exploitation of young people in Ireland by a cynical drinks industry, as they pump huge sums into almost all sports organisations in this country.

Dr Michael J Loftus is a GP in Crossmolina, Co Mayo. He served as President of the GAA fro 1985 to 1987.

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Dr Mick Loftus

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