Ireland’s largest sporting organisation licenses chocolate bar targeting children

Posted by on Apr 14, 2014 in Blog, Food, News | 2 comments

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Former GAA President Dr Mick Loftus famously campaigned – on public health grounds – for the abolition of alcohol sponsorship in Ireland’s largest sporting organisation for over a decade.

He will be pleased to see that legislation is now closing in on the sponsorship of sporting events by alcoholic drinks brands in Ireland. That the outstanding issue appears to be financial means that this is not an “if” but a “when.” A cheque will be written to replace the “easy alcohol money” and everyone will move along.

Legislation around sponsorship is a relatively new phenomenon but it is typcially an accurate mirror of societal norms. Big Tobacco was hit hard in the 1990s as research outed the damage caused by their product and smoking fell out of favour.

Philip Morris and co were sentenced to sponsorship death and everyone wondered where the money would come from to replace the Marlboro men. They need not have – Big Booze, Telcoms and the Banks rode in to town on a horse weighed down with fresh moneybags.

My old mentor Mark McCormack had always advised us to think big, go long and disregard the small deals. Not surprisingly, I would quickly learn that the most powerful man in world sport was bang on the money – literally.

Big deals are easier to pitch, negotiate, close and manage than small ones. That’s where the “right money” resides. Once upon a time tobacco was the right money. That society and ultimately the authorities decided otherwise is a useful lesson.

Dr Loftus seemed like a lone voice in a long hall for much of his solo campaign. In hindsight, he was ahead of both society and the looming legislation.

To their credit, Diageo also knew when to leave the stage. The “right money” likes to plan ahead you see.

The GAA has it much easier.

As Commercial chief, Peter McKenna’s job requires not much more than an ability to say very little and let the hired help complete the job. You can rave about the “product” and the “benefits” all you want but the bottom line is this – the GAA is but a judge at their very own beauty pageant every 3-5 years.

When the GAA’s commercial rights become available, the corporate beauty queens bleach their teeth, reach for the swimsuit and call in their PR gurus for a practice Q & A.

“It’s like the X Factor but you pay them! If you win, you get to sit amongst and sing to all those kids. That McKenna fella even looks a bit like yer man Simon with the dyed hair who wears his t-shirts too tight.”

Let the games begin.

When the GAA was founded in 1884, Ireland was on first name terms with alcoholism but we had never met obesity or diabetes. 100 years later the greatest team ever were advertising Bendix washing machines that would presumably be used to clean regular sized dirty clothing.

For a very long time obesity and diabetes were not what we did, nor was the GAA a trojan horse for their commercial beneficiaries. Our children are now topping the overweight/obesity charts in Europe and Ireland’s type 2 (diet and lifestyle related) diabetics would fill Croke Park twice - with 20,000 left standing outside (nothing we haven’t seen before).

Another 200,000 are in a waiting room enjoying various GAA endorsed junk food and artifical food like products. This room is pre-diabetes and the average Irish person will have no idea that they are there in the first place.

If you’re over 40, overweight, constantly thirsty and low on energy then you’re very possibly in this room already. If they’re feeling generous, Paddy Power would give you odds of 1/3 on your own death by heart attack or stroke – odds which the average GP will have no idea how to lengthen.

Dr Loftus will know that Ireland’s expenditure on diabetes (1.5 billion euros and rising) dwarfs alcohol related health costs. The biggest commercial health opportunity in the western world is feasting upon us but the spindoctors for its beneficiaries tell us there are “complex” and “multifactorial” issues causing these horrific health statistics. Balance is key. Go out and play the sports we sponsor and you’ll be grand.

To that list of spin we can now add a Father Ted-esque contribution from Peter McKenna. Announcing the launch of a GAA licensed chocolate bar with Cadbury’s last week, Peter preached -

“A bar of chocolate is a lovely treat. Let’s not lose sight of that.”

How quaint.

In 2006 Kelloggs had a policy “not to actively target primary schools.” Since 2012, the GAA have helped them deftly change the parameters of their promise. The organisation’s Cul Camps – sponsored by Kelloggs – have now spread across Britain and the US. They are “open to primary school children ages 6-13” and over 100,000 children will attend in 2014.

Kelloggs rap sheet is neither “complex” nor “multifactorial” They have been caught red handed telling lies and blatantly massaging the “benefits” of their highly refined, food like products on numerous occasions.

Let’s not lose sight of that either Peter.

Junk food is in the dock already and in time society, then the authorities will turn against sugar and its highly refined, processed food like bedfellows. The Kelloggs Cul camp will not be very cool any more and the “right money” will appear from elsewhere (it always does).

The Cadbury’s deal? That’s not even cool today.

What were you thinking Peter? Your head must have been up in the clouds….or the SKY?


  1. Hi Donal! Just watched your amazing documentary. Thanks for all you’re doing. This is a great post also. I have children of my own and I work in a school district here in the states. What our kids are eating, and what we parents think is “ok” is frightful.
    Donal – please contact me if you would consider coming on my podcast. We are real people chronicling our journey to better health. Your message is one that we’d love to promote!
    Again, many thanks for your efforts!!

  2. interesting and so true Donal about the GAA.

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