The announcement by the Portman Group, which represents Britain’s main drinks companies, comes just days before the government announces its new alcohol strategy.

Replica football shirts sold to children will no longer carry the logos of alcohol-industry sponsors under rules as unveiled in June 2007.

Drinks firms sponsoring sports teams have agreed that it is inappropriate for children to wear shirts advertising alcohol brands.

The announcement by the Portman Group, which represents Britain’s main drinks companies, comes just days before the government announces its new alcohol strategy.

It will be seen as a gesture by the multi-billion-pound drinks industry to head off more draconian government action amid concern about soaring levels of alcohol abuse among the young.

The government’s new alcohol strategy is expected to require pubs, supermarkets and off-licences to display alcohol health warnings at the bar or tills, as well as labels on drinks bottles and cans. Details of the scheme are being negotiated between the Department of Health and the drinks industry.

 Among the football clubs sponsored by drinks firms are Liverpool, Everton, Rangers and Celtic. Other Premiership teams are said to be in talks with alcohol firms and will also be hit.

At least nine county cricket sides including Derbyshire, Essex and Warwickshire and rugby teams including London Wasps and Bristol, are also affected.

Under the terms of the voluntary ban, to be included in the drinks industry’s code of conduct, all contracts signed from next January will bar the sale of replica shirts advertising drinks firms to children. Firms at an "early stage" of contract negotiations will also be expected to abide by the rules.

Gambling regulators are considering similar rules for casino and poker firms sponsoring football clubs. They are expected to announce a clampdown this month. Industry insiders believe the ban will in effect end the long history of drinks companies sponsoring football teams.

The market in replica shirts is estimated to be worth more than £250m annually with the majority sold to teenage boys. Children are unlikely to want to wear replica kits without logos and any slump in sales could have financial implications.

David Poley, chief executive of the Portman Group, said: "We are aware of the criticism about the wearing of shirts advertising drinks firms by children. This move may make alcohol companies relatively unattractive as sponsors. One of the concerns is that if you do take your branding off there may well be some fall-out in terms of reduced sales."

Last week the Portman Group wrote to sports associations informing them of the forthcoming rule change. However, there is set to be criticism that the crack-down will apply only to contracts or contract extensions signed after next January.

Carlsberg, which sponsors Liverpool, is thought to have agreed a new three-year deal within the past few days and is therefore set to dodge the clampdown initially. The deal is said to be worth more than £20m. A spokeswoman for the Danish brewer said it supported the new Portman Group code but the firm was confident its new sponsorship deal would not be affected.

The alcohol industry insists it is not targeting children but critics claim the firms are using sophisticated techniques – including football sponsorship – to target the young. France has barred all televised sports sponsorship by alcohol companies, and medical experts are pushing for similar rules in Britain.

Professor Ian Gilmour, a liver specialist and president of the Royal College of Physicians who led calls for the ban, said: "I welcome the announcement and hope it’s a move towards the complete withdrawal of the alcohol industry from sports events. Every statistic that comes out shows an increasingly concerning situation surrounding alcohol use by the young."

John Taylor, chairman of Sports Impact, a firm negotiating sponsorship, said: "There is a difference between sponsoring an event – that seems entirely appropriate – but beer branding on shirts is less appropriate." Industry insiders believe the ban could effectively end the long history of drink companies sponsoring football teams. 

 

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