The great sporting spectacles that occupy our weekends are meant to be for our viewing pleasure, and usually observing them is accompanied with a drink or snacks: something to heighten our pleasure further.

It’s the sort of thing that probably upsets the health brigade, the kind of people who prefer walking boots to football boots, who worry at the dangers of rugby and asks why it need be a contact sport. And so far, their yammering has largely gone unheeded, for all their efforts to turn any sport from a pleasure into a means of achieving deadening ‘physical wellbeing’, whatever that may be.

But as the ever grasping healthists look to extend their reach, they are not just threatening our enjoyment of sport through guilt-tripping – but in some cases, sport itself. Taking their cue from the tobacco marketing ban that started in sport and now covers everything, they intend to block much of the sponsorship on which so many disciplines rely – the first intended victim being booze.

Calls to ban the advertising of alcohol in the UK seem, frankly, churlish at the best of times. But as with so many initiatives aimed at improving the health of the general population, the knock-on effects would be very far reaching indeed.

Were alcoholic products no longer allowed to be advertised in the UK, sport would suffer. Larger sports, specifically football, could probably continue much as before – the Premier League now being so large that it dwarves all other comers in terms of global revenue. Smaller leagues, like the SPL, might suffer, but would survive.

Other professional sports, however, would struggle to continue – and none none more than Formula 1 motor racing. The whole show simply wouldn’t be able to operate in the UK, such is the reliance it has on advertising revenues from alcohol.

Were this to go ahead, moreover, how long before two other things happened: first, that other countries followed suit in hitting alcohol adverts, further endangering F1’s revenue; and second, that bans would come into effect for other products, say, processed foods? Where would it all stop?

The argument made by the health lobby is that the presence of such adverts encourages drinking, especially amongst the young. But really, do they believe that children are so gullible? Drinking was a facet of our culture long before mass marketing in sports; before consumerism even (which is why brands now need to distinguish themselves from each other). Has Budweiser’s sponsorship of the FA Cup led to a massive increase in juvenile drunkenness? Given that they;’re drinking less these days, it seems as likely as AXA’s sponsorship of the same competition leading to a mass movement of teenagers taking out life insurance.

All such a ban will do is damage, perhaps irreparably, sports that people follow loyally but which depend on advertising and sponsorship revenue. If that happens, everyone suffers, the teetotallers and alcoholics alike. And, alas, the poor people so easily lulled into lives of inebriation by wicked advertising… will keep on drinking anyway.

They think it’s all over? It may be soon.

by Edward Baer