The heads of Ireland's largest sporting organisations have said that a possible ban on sponsorship of major sporting events by drinks companies would have a big impact on their funding going forward.
The FAI's John Delaney, Páraic Duffy of the GAA and the IRFU's Philip Browne gave their views to the Transport and Communications Committee in Leinster House on the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship at sporting and cultural events by 2016 as proposed last year by the Department of Health Steering Group.
Overall, the three men were of the view that there is no evidence to suggest that a ban on alcohol will result in the reduction of alcohol consumption among young people.
Phillip Browne said that the IRFU is ideally placed to help the Department launch educational initiatives for young people on the issue of alcohol. He said that in countries where such bans were introduced - there was no proven reduction in levels of drinking among young people.
However, he added that the elimination of alcohol sponsorship will only satisfy a unproven notion about the link and it will reduce the IRFU's income and competitiveness to recruit young people into the sport.
He summed by saying there is no sponsorship 'white knight' waiting in the wings to replace the income generated by alcohol companies.
John Delaney said that sponsorship is a big issue. While referring to the many schemes the FAI have in place that promotes health and well-being, the reduction in Government funding to the Association has meant that there is a greater reliance on sponsorship and commerical arrangments than ever before.
Páraic Duffy highlighted the volunteerism that is the bedrock of the GAA and that 84% of total revenue goes back to club and communities.
However, he pointed out that last year the downturn continued to have big impact on the GAA and many counties and clubs suffered as a result of debt. He added that 23% of GAA's revenue comes from commerical arrangements, so sponsorship is very important, yet has never, ever been more difficult to get.
That said, Duffy spoke about the GAA's extensive alcohol awareness programme, while stating that the answer lies in an extensive information campaign and in Government legislation making access to alcohol more difficult for young people.
He went on to say that in a perfect world, if other sponsorship was available - sporting bodies probably wouldn't use drinks companies and that the GAA, FAI and IRFU do not allow any drinks sponsors on jerseys.
Minister of State for Sport, Michael Ring said he was concerned the elimination of the alcohol industry from sponsoring sports would have negative impact on efforts to increase and mainta
The Minister said he agreed with much of what was proposed in the alcohol strategy, but a ban on sponsorship would undermine the efforts of sporting organisations to be self sufficient at a time of reduced government spending in the area.
Sports sponsorship, he said was estimated at 30 million Europe per annum from the alcohol industry - 75% of of the Irish Sports Council's budget.
Ring added that the evidence from the State of the Nation's Children report showed that proportion of young people not drinking before the age of 18 was growing, despite the era of saturation TV coverage of events sponsored by drinks companies. The reverse had been the experience in France where drinks sponsorship was banned.