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F1 urged to ban alcohol sponsorship

PAUL CHIASSON/AFP/Getty Images

An anti-drinking pressure group has called on FIA president Jean Todt to consider a ban on alcohol sponsorship in Formula One following its recent deal with Heineken.

Ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix F1 unveiled a new multi-year partnership with Dutch brewing company Heineken, which was heavily branded around the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve at the weekend. The company is hoping to use the F1 deal to push a message of "If you drive, never drink", a message which was displayed at Turn 7 in Montreal.

Mariann Skar, Secretary General of the European Alcohol Policy Alliance, has written an open letter to Todt expressing her concerns about the new deal and the prominence of alcohol sponsorship during F1 events. The letter says there was "one reference [to alcohol] every five seconds" during last year's Monaco Grand Prix.

The letter, which the group says "has the support of 40 public health and civil society organisations from around the world", asks whether F1 wants to be "a motorsport or an alcohol brand event". Skar has called on Todt, who has done a lot of work with the FIA's 'Action for Road Safety' programme, to consider banning alcohol in the way it moved away from tobacco sponsorship ten years ago.

Read the letter in full:

Dear Mr Todt,

Reaction to F1 and its Heineken sponsorship deal

Heineken recently launched their new sponsorship agreements with F1, a five year deal estimated to be worth $150m. With this new deal, Heineken will place themselves as one of the main sponsors of the sport, with event name and circuit branding, TV commercials and other promotional activities.

This is a major concern because alcohol and driving should not be mixed. Alcohol brands are now dominating sponsorships in F1, linking a popular motor sport to one of the major killers on our roads, drink driving.

Alcohol marketing has a powerful effect on society, in particular on young people. As you very well know, F1 is a sport heavily sponsored by alcohol producers, even before this new deal. A report on alcohol brand exposure during the F1 Monaco Grand Prix last year showed that there were on average 11 references to alcohol brands per minute -- averaging one every five seconds. The promotion of alcohol alongside iconic sporting events reinforces and exaggerates pro-alcohol social norms. The Monaco Grand Prix has a worldwide audience of around 500 million people, and with the new deal in addition to the previous sponsorship agreement, F1 is close to becoming more an event for granting the global exposure of alcohol brands than a sporting event.

We have previously written to you about this concern, and in your response you declare yours and FIA's commitment to road safety, referring to your work with the 'Action for Road Safety' programme, in addition to yourself being a UN Special Envoy for Road Safety.

We would like to remind you that drink driving is one of the key killers on the road. It is therefore worrying that F1 is now bringing the link between alcohol brands and motor sport even closer together.

We would like to request that you take this issue seriously and consider moving away from these sponsorship agreements, as you did with tobacco sponsorship. FIA is not without responsibilities, being the governing body of F1 and also being one of the shareholders in the sport.

Mariann Skar, Secretary General in the European Alcohol Policy Alliance

Eurocare's website says it will be "asking for stronger legislation, both from the European Commission and from individual [European Union] Member States, who should follow France's example of banning alcohol sponsorship of sport events."