Duncan Mackay

WhiskyJune 7 - London 2012 officials are set to back away from what would easily have been their most controversial Olympic sponsorship deal reports David Owen, who also discovers that Wimbledon is getting in the Games spirit

 Anti-alcohol groups should put the cherryade on ice: I gather there is now very little chance that Diageo, the drinks company, will strike a deal to become a top-tier sponsor of London 2012.

insidethegames reported in May that Diageo - whose brands include Smirnoff, Guinness, Johnnie Walker and a host of others – had been in talks with London 2012 for several months.

I understand that the idea would have been to use the London Games to promote responsible drinking.

Now, though, it seems, there is virtually no prospect of this happening.

I am told the Games organisers may still do deals with a brewery and a winemaker covering the beer and wine product categories.

However, these would be lower-profile second- or third-tier sponsorships.

While they would no doubt have appreciated the money that a deal with Diageo would have brought in, any such agreement would probably have led to heavy criticism of the London Games organisers in some circles.

In May, Labour MP Howard Stoate called for a ban on alcohol advertising at sports events.

The perceived problem of binge drinking by adolescents on Britain’s streets has also been much in the news of late, keeping the issue of the pricing and availability of alcohol in the public eye. 

Asked directly about Olympic sponsorship, Diageo - which already has several high-profile sports ties including Johnnie Walker’s sponsorship of the McLaren Formula One team - made the following comment:

“As the world’s leading premium drinks business, sponsorship plays a significant role in our marketing activities.

“We look at opportunities all the time – many of which we don’t pursue – so as a rule do not comment on speculation.

“We announce those deals we do sign at a time which is most advantageous for our brand.”

It was announced last month that Diageo brands Guinness and Bushmills were to be commercial partners of next year’s British & Irish Lions rugby union tour of South Africa.

London 2012’s top-tier sponsors include Adidas, British Airways, BT, EDF Energy and Lloyds TSB.

A leading oil company may add its name to this list relatively soon.

Proud to be an Olympic venue

The closing stages of the French Open tennis championships at Roland Garros – which will be battled out this weekend - always herald the final countdown to Wimbledon.

Besides staging its own “Grand Slam” every year, the world-famous South London lawn tennis ground is, of course, very properly the designated venue for the 2012 Olympic tennis competition.

And spectators attending this year’s tournament will get a small but fitting reminder of this fact, as Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, recently told me.

Ritchie said that the club intends to fly the Olympic rings flag at this year’s championships – “because…we take great pride in being an Olympic venue”.

He said he thought using Wimbledon for the Olympics would be “very positive for tennis”.

Under normal circumstances, the sport wasn’t “necessarily at the forefront of everybody’s mind when it comes to the overall Olympics”.

For an Olympic tournament staged at Wimbledon, however, “I don’t think we will have any problem with interest, attention, people wanting to come”.

From the club’s point of view, meanwhile, he suggested, the Olympics would present a further opportunity to underline Wimbledon’s status as a “premium venue”.

Wimbledon has already staged Olympic tennis once before – in 1908.

Readers will doubtless be less than astonished to learn that, according to the official report, the weather was “in a fitful mood towards the end of the week and kept people away from some of the most interesting matches”.

By a strange coincidence, the winner of the men’s singles was called Ritchie.

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing.