REFERENCES to alcohol appeared on screen every 15 seconds during a Wales game in the Six Nations championship last year, a new study shows. 

Research on marketing by drinks brands in the famous rugby tournament found 1,444 references to alcohol across the two matches played in Ireland in 2020. 

These included on pitch branding, on equipment such as goal posts and high profile locations around the ground.

There were 690 references, 3.8 per minute or once every 16 seconds, during the clash with Scotland, and another 754 references, 4.0 per minute or once every 15 seconds, during Wales’ 24 –14 defeat at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium in February 2020. 

In Scotland the figures were higher, with 961 references observed during their clash with England at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. This equated to, on average, 5.1 references per broadcast minute, or approximately once every 12 seconds. 

Ireland is due to introduce new restrictions on alcohol advertising in sports from November 12 this year, under the Public Health Alcohol Bill. 

The UK currently has no legislative restrictions on alcohol firms sponsoring sporting teams or events, with marketing of drinks self-regulated by the industry. 

While the self-regulation code states that “drinks companies must ensure there is a recognisable commitment to promoting responsible drinking”, the Stirling University research found only 3.5 per cent of references to the alcohol sponsor contained such a message in the Ireland v Scotland clash – with this falling to 0.4 per cent of references when Scotland played England. 

Authors of the study, Dr Richard Purves and Dr Nathan Critchlow of the University of Stirling, have asked how Ireland’s incoming rules “may influence alcohol marketing practice in future iterations of the tournament”. 

In France however, which already has similar restrictions to those Ireland will implement, there were 193 references in their fixture against England at the Stade De France in Paris. 

This equated, on average, to 1.2 references a minute across the broadcast, or approximately once every 50 seconds. 

Researchers warned of a practice of “alibi marketing” that has grown prominent in France since the Evin Law, which prohibits sport sponsorship, was introduced. 

The study says this practice uses “features that are linked to the brand without explicitly referring to it – a practice that has been used by tobacco companies in sport too. 

“In France, the Six Nations’ lead sponsor, Guinness, uses the term ‘Greatness’ instead – with the same branding.” 

When the Welsh rugby team were sponsored by Welsh brewery Brains they replaced the firm’s name on the front of their jerseys with the word ‘Brawn’ to comply with French advertising regulations for a game in Paris during the 2005 grand slam campaign. 

In 2009 the marketing men pushed the regulations even further with ‘Try Essai’ on the front of the jerseys. Essai translates as try in French, but when spoken aloud was intended to sound like ‘try SA’ - the name of the brewer’s famous SA beer. 

The study found such advertising tactics occur during France matches despite alibi marketing appearing to be against their regulations, which prohibit “advertising [that] by its design, use of a name, trademark, advertising emblem or other distinctive sign, recalls an alcoholic beverage.”

South Wales Argus: Wales wore these shirts in France in 2007 which referenced a 2005 'alibi marketing' innovation Picture: Huw Evans AgencyWales wore these shirts in France in 2007 which referenced a 2005 'alibi marketing' innovation Picture: Huw Evans Agency 

Alibi marketing accounted for 88.1 per cent of alcohol references in France’s game against England last year, but did not feature at all in either of the Ireland games studied. 

Researchers say the use of alibi marketing in France will raises questions for the new restrictions Ireland is set to introduce this year. 

“The continued presence of alibi marketing in France does have implications for the regulators and policymakers overseeing the new restrictions in Ireland, namely whether alibi marketing will also be restricted under the wording of their legislation and what arrangements are in place to monitor and enforce the restrictions” the study says. 

Alcohol Action Ireland has called on the republic’s government to ensure the practice does not spread to Ireland. 

Chief executive Dr Sheila Gilheany said: “This report highlights, the Irish Government and public health officials need to be wary of the current loopholes we see in the French approach, and ensure our regulations protect against this.” 

The Welsh Rugby Union, whose current shirt sponsor since July this year is online car retailer Cazoo, has commercial partnerships with Guinness, Heineken and Brecon Brewing. 

None of the four professional Welsh rugby sides, which regularly play United Rugby Championship fixtures in Ireland, currently have a brewery as their main shirt sponsor but do all have commercial partnerships with alcohol brands. 

Ireland has already introduced measures such as minimum unit pricing and alcohol segregation in supermarkets and from November 12 will ban alcohol advertising in a sports area during a sporting event, at events aimed at children or at events in which the majority of participants or competitors are children. 

Research has shown that children exposed to alcohol advertising are more likely to start drinking at a younger age, and drink more heavily in later life. 

A watershed will also be introduced, banning ads on TV and radio between the hours of 3am and 9pm. 

In the study, a reference was defined as any visual or verbal reference to alcohol or an alcohol brand that lasted for one second or more during the broadcasted programme or commercial break. 

In all four broadcasts studied, references were mostly observed during the match and in high-profile locations, including large static logos in the middle of the pitch and logos on the match equipment, such as on the ball and goal posts. 

The Guinness Six Nations was contacted for comment. 

This article originally appeared on our sister site The National. Additional reporting by James Ward, PA and Katrine Bussey, PA Scotland Political Editor