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End to Formula One alcohol sponsorship urged

The head of Formula One in Europe has come under fire for allowing alcohol sponsorship in the sport, as EU plans to ban the practice gather pace.

Alcohol sponsorship of motorsports has been criticised for encouraging drink drivin

Jean Todt, president of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), has been approached by alcohol lobbyists to end alcohol sponsorship in Formula One.

In an open letter, Mariann Skar, secretary general of the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare), wrote that “heavy marketing” in the sport is creating a “troubling” association between drinking and driving.

The practice is a popular one among spirits brands, with several deals agreed between major brands and F1 teams this year alone.

Martini returned to Williams in March in a deal thought to be worth around £10m; Johnnie Walker became the official whisky supplier of the championship in September and agreed a sponsorship of MacLaren; while Smirnoff agreed to support Force India in May.

While sponsorship is clearly a favoured revenue driver for Formula One teams and marketing tool for alcohol brands, with brands spending over £800m a year in the UK, Skar claimed in her letter that “the very nature of such sponsorship in Formula One is leaving an uneasy feeling for an increasing number of people”.

“Allowing alcohol sponsorship in Formula One seems to contradict many official guidelines for the marketing of alcohol,” she wrote.

“It runs against the EU Directive (2010/13/EU) which states that marketing for the consumption of alcohol should not be linked to driving. Moreover, the current association between alcohol and driving does not seem to fall in the category of ‘the widespread promotion of responsible drinking messages’, part of the mission supported by the alcohol industry itself.”

Concerns regarding future funding for the sport are unjustified, Eurocare claims, citing the example of the departure of tobacco advertising from the sport in 2000.

“When the tobacco industry was edged out of snooker, horse racing and even Formula One itself, the sports made successful shifts and alternative sponsors emerged,” Skar added.

Diageo, which owns the Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker brands, said in response that it aims to “drive positive change” with a message to “never drink and drive”.

“Through our involvement in the sport we are driving positive change, delivering powerful responsible drinking programmes that have real impact on a global scale,” a statement from the group read. “More than 1.4 million people around the world have signed Johnnie Walker’s Join the Pact pledge to never drink and drive – that is 1.4 million people who may not have otherwise made that commitment.
“While we know there is always more that can be done, we are encouraged to see that road deaths attributed to drink driving have dropped almost 6% annually in the EU from 2001 to 2010. We believe we have an important role to play in continuing to ensure that this promising trend continues in Europe and rest of the world.”

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