The Steering Group Report on the National Substance Misuse Strategy contains 45 recommendations to reduce alcohol-related harm in Ireland, but if you are not familiar with the process then recently you’d be forgiven for thinking it only contained one.
Recent media coverage of the measures proposed by Minister Alex White for inclusion in the Public (Health) Alcohol Bill has focused almost exclusively on one issue – alcohol sponsorship of sports. You may have heard passing mention of measures relating to pricing and availability or some of the many other recommendations, but certainly not much.
It’s easy to see why the proposal to phase out alcohol sponsorship of sports by 2020 generates easy headlines. You have the biggest sporting organisations in the country involved; you have the alcohol industry and its considerable financial clout lobbying against it and then there’s the strong political element to it, with the Cabinet seemingly split on the proposal.
The extensive coverage also shows how strongly Irish people feel about sporting matters, but then if we didn’t feel that way, and have such a high level of interest in sports, the alcohol companies wouldn’t be pumping so much money into these sponsorship deals and fighting so hard to retain their close links to our sporting organisations.
However, the debate is currently being framed in a way that suggests that those in favour of the proposed ban, including Alcohol Action Ireland, see it, and it alone, as the answer to alcohol-related harm in Ireland. We don’t.
We see it as part of a multi-faceted plan (remember, there are 44 other recommendations) to tackle a complex problem, which will hopefully result in Irish people drinking less – a result which would see the massive burden of alcohol-related harm on the people on this country lessened considerably. The proposals, all of them together, are effectively a blueprint to change our harmful relationship with alcohol.
However, getting somewhat lost amid the current debate about alcohol sponsorship of sports is this key question: Why is it important to bring alcohol sponsorship of sports to an end?