Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Sport and alcohol in Ireland: a 'Victorious Sponsorship Campaign'

In 2004 the Irish government's Strategic Task Force on Alcohol recommended that national sporting bodies find an alternative to alcohol sponsorship.  That didn't happen.  Seven years later the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) should be lauded for at least making an attempt to reverse the appalling influence that sports sponsorship has had on young people's drinking habits in Ireland.  In Mayo the club is banning the use of alcohol sponsorship on jerseys intended for teenagers.  During January 2012 all GAA players will be encouraged to stay 'off the booze and on the ball' to increase their own fitness and to set a good example to young people. 

The hard hitting campaign believes that "Drinking alcohol is part of everyday adult life in Ireland. It is used to celebrate, commiserate and to socialise. Used sensibly alcohol is a pleasurable, socially acceptable drug". 


 Advertising is often discreet
While this campaign might give the impression self-regulation is working, in reality it is a very small gesture towards countering the pernicious effect of alcohol sponsorship of sports.  The 2011 UNICEF special report on teenagers and alcohol in Ireland found 'the emergence of a dangerous orthodoxy in which drugs and alcohol are accepted as a normal part of adolescence in Ireland' and that 77% of respondents to their survey reported that they drink.  This is not all down to advertising of course - price and availability are also factors, but the prevalence of sports sponsorship is a major factor.  Who thinks so?  Anti-alcohol campaigners do of course, but so do the alcohol industry and sports organisations, and so does the government.

In 2007 an Oireachtas joint committee investigated the issue of alcohol sponsorship of sport and concluded:
The Joint Committee recommends the sourcing of sponsorship for sport outside of the alcohol industry: the correlation between the onset of drinks sponsorship and the rapid rise in alcohol consumption in this country is too strong to be ignored.
Specialist Professor Joe Barry now believes 'the culture of major sports events ....being heavily sponsored by drinks companies needs to be closely scrutinised if the problem of alcohol abuse is to be adequately tackled'.  The industry itself concurs albeit from the opposite perspective.  In 2000 it was felt by alcohol industry giant Diageo that "in the past sponsorship was often an under-rated element of the marketing communications mix".  That was soon remedied and by 2007 'almost €6 in every €10 spent on sponsorship in Ireland is invested in sports-related sponsorships, such as GAA, rugby and soccer'...of a total of €100m spent overall.  Guinness explains why.  'Sponsorship' it said (in a joint initiative with the GAA  published by the Irish Times called Implementing a Victorius Sponsorship Campaign)
'is an investment in an activity in return for permission to exploit the commercial potential associated with that activity'
And the commercial potential to be exploited in the GAA was huge - a full one third of the Irish population are members of the GAA and the organisation offers 'over 1,000 licensed outlets for the Guinness product'.

GAA meets Guinness: The Victorious Sponsorship Campaign
 Does alcohol sponsorship affect the young?
It is safe to conclude that sponsorship of sport results in sales.   The industry would not be spending millions on it otherwise.  Does it reach young people in particular?  A Dutch University study in 2008 interviewed 1,688 12-15 years old, and found that 'youngsters thought more positively about beer after the massive beer publicity on TV during the 2008 European football championship'.   The 2009 Irish study Get em' Young investigated the link between alcohol consumption and advertising and concluded that 'Alcohol sports sponsorship links masculinity, alcohol and sport and embeds alcoholic products into the every day life of the consumer. It reaches the target audience – young males who are the keenest sports fans and heaviest drinkers'.

This year an Australian study had similar results. 'Figures from marketing analysts suggest that major alcohol companies spend up to 80 per cent of advertising and sponsorship budgets promoting alcohol via sports'. Deakin University scientist Dr Peter Miller said:
This study provides new evidence of the harms associated with alcohol industry sponsorship of sport and we believe that any sporting association serious about the well-being of young people should support calls for governments to provide alternative funding. It's simply not worth gambling with their future for the sake of some easy money.
Will alcohol sponsorship of sport be curbed?
Are young people safe in the hands of these two enormously wealthy and powerful industries?  The topic of regulation is up for discussion again and the loss of all that sponsorship money is causing anxiety in the sporting world. At the moment the situation is just how the industry wants it.  In Ireland, as Alcohol Action Ireland reports,
The codes restricting alcohol marketing to children and young people are voluntary rather than statutory - and they do not cover all aspects of integrated marketing, that is, using the marketing methods of product, price, place and promotion to complement and reinforce each other. Integrated marketing is the approach undertaken by the alcohol industry to sell their products. The current codes are, in effect, limited to advertising which is only one aspect of marketing.
So a re-opening of the sponsorship debate is of concern to industry bodies who are all doing nicely out of the current arrangement. 

'Long reaching and devastating consequences'
As sports reported last year the alcohol and sports industry are ready to defend their position.  'The Irish Rugby Football Union' for example 'believes there is a real danger that 'rash decisions could be made' with “long-reaching and devastating consequences” for organised sport in this country in the absence of proper cost/benefit studies on the issue'.  How rash is it to implement a policy after over a decade of debate and rapidly rising statistics on alcohol abuse amongst young people?  The cost benefit study they are thinking about is perhaps the potential loss of their share of that 100 million plus sponsorship money.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland is also worried about loss of sales (or is it just committed to making the sports industry rich?)  It claims that there is a lack of “coherent, empirical evidence linking sponsorship by alcohol brands to increased consumption" and is worried that 'any ban on sponsorship would put Irish sporting bodies at a “great disadvantage"...internationally'.

Nice of the ABFI to put its concern about sport first.  But no need.  Australian academic Dr. Miller found that "Norway and France have had longstanding bans in place with little apparent effect on sport, and this year Turkey banned all alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sport. France successfully hosted the 1998 FIFA World Cup with their alcohol sponsorship and advertising ban in place, and currently host the multi-nation Heineken Cup Rugby competition, renamed the H-Cup in France".

Dr Kypri of Manchester University, author of several studies showing the direct link between alcohol sponsorship of sport and binge drinking amongst players and fans, sums it up like this:
The latest moves by the major sporting codes lobby against the regulation of alcohol sponsorship of sport show that these bodies remain in denial of alcohol-related problems in their sports.  It is clear that these organisations have enormous vested interests in continuing to receive alcohol money and government should be careful to act in the public interest rather than to cave in to the sports and Big Booze.
World Health Organisation Charter
As the World Health Organisation’s European Charter on Alcohol states:

‘All children and adolescents have the right to grow up in an environment protected from the negative consequences of alcohol consumption and, to the extent possible, from the promotion of alcoholic beverages'.  Each Member State should ‘Implement strict controls... on direct and indirect advertising of alcoholic beverages and ensure that no form of advertising is specifically addressed to young people, for instance, through the linking of alcohol to sports.’

The WHO Charter has been signed by many countries, including all the Member States of the EU.  Back of the net?


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