Diageo boss defends F1 participation

Amidst calls by the Eurocare to ban alcohol sponsorship, Johnnie Walker's parent company insists it is an "extraordinary opportunity" to promote responsible drinking.

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance, known as Eurocare, recently wrote to FIA president Jean Todt claiming that alcohol sponsorship in Formula 1 goes against EU law.

Urging Todt to take "take moral leadership", the letter stated that FIA "has responsibilities, both as a shareholder in the Formula One business and regulator of the sport."

The letter continued: "Allowing alcohol sponsorship in Formula One seems to contradict many official guidelines for the marketing of alcohol.

"It runs against the EU Directive 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."

But David Gates, the head of Johnnie Walker's parent company Diageo, says that through sponsoring F1 his company has reached "half a billion" people to promote the 'don't drink and drive' message.

"We've been involved in Formula One for over a decade, and in that time responsible drinking has been at the heart of our campaign," said Gates, speaking to Press Association Sport.

"Through our campaigns we reckon we've reached over half a billion people with the 'never drink and drive' message.

"We've had one and a half million people sign a pledge to never drink and drive, and we've an ambition to take that on to five million.

"From our perspective, we're seeing our association with the sport as an extraordinary opportunity to help influence both attitudes and behavior to have less people – ideally no people – drink and drive."

He added that events like Johnnie Walker's recent outing with McLaren in Edinburgh, which was attended by Jenson Button, Kevin Magnussen and Mika Hakkinen, also catches the attention of the public, pushing the message of responsible drinking.

"People like Jenson, Kevin and Mika have influenced a certain demographic who are far more likely to listen to what they have to say," added Gates.

"They've been a force for good. When you hear Jenson and Mika talking about helping to save lives, they mean it and we mean it.

"Diageo has 370 responsible drinking campaigns in 50 countries around the world. It's something we're committed to.

"A lot of people have got the message and made a commitment (to not drink and drive) than if we were not involved.

"Naturally, we've people in our company who are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility.

"We take that seriously and we do care, and that permeates everything we do, so we are incredibly careful about our responsibilities and how we market." Planet F1

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