The Alcohol Health Alliance lambasted Heineken for sponsoring Team GB at the Olympics with its Strongbow brand.
It said the sponsorship would encourage children to drink, but Heineken hit back, saying its marketing was solely focused on adults, while the British Olympic Association said it was a great way of supporting athletes.
When asked if the health lobby might succeed in its bid to sever ties between the drinks trade and the sporting world, Martin Thatcher, chief executive at Thatchers and chairman of the NACM, told OLN: “The problem the health lobbyists are up against is that if alcohol is drunk in sensible proportions it can be good for you.
“If you drink too much it can be bad for you, but there is some evidence that there are good sides to drinking in moderation. It’s a much harder argument to ban something that’s not all bad. We don’t want to encourage drinking too much and that’s why the lobbyists will find it difficult.”
He added: “Clubs rely a lot on sponsorship. I think it would be wrong for it to be banned. There are good things that come out of it. We are a tiny island compared to China, Russia and the US and our Olympics performance was brilliant. Anything that encourages sport has to be a good thing. If alcohol brands are part of that in a responsible way, why isn’t that better for the country?”
In France, loi evin prevents alcohol brands sponsoring sporting events, so Euro 2016 sponsor Carlsberg hurdled this challenge by simply emblazoning billboards around matches with the word “Probably” – a reference to its “Probably the best lager in the world” tagline.
Paul Morris, brand and sponsorship manager at Carlsberg UK, told OLN: “The alcohol brands in a festival or sports are big players in terms of sponsorship, especially for smaller sports. Our sponsorship of the rugby clubs, they aren’t heavily funded – football is a bit different – but ultimately we want to be involved in people’s great times. Watching sport is very important to people.
“There is pressure from the health lobby but we work very closely with the governing bodies and the Portman Group and as long as we follow the guidelines we are confident that we can continue in this country sponsoring big sporting events and festivals. It’s an important part of the relationship that we hope doesn’t disappear. “
The Portman Group added: “Alcohol sponsorship makes a significant contribution to the economy, supports major sporting events and provides essential investment for grassroots programmes.
“In the UK marketing alcohol to children is prohibited and alcohol sponsorship is strictly controlled. The strict rules are supported by all major sports organisations, alcohol producers and have been welcomed by the UK governments.”