POLITICS

Gerry Byrne: no link between Sport NL criticisms and son's rejected appeal

03/04/2015 04:50 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT
Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte MP Gerry Byrne is denying that he targeted Sport Newfoundland and Labrador with critical comments because the organization rejected his appeal to have his son selected to represent the province in the Canada Games.

In a Feb. 5 article in the St. John's Telegram, Byrne questioned whether it was appropriate for an organization like Sport NL to take sponsorship from breweries.

At the time, he was quoted as saying he was uncomfortable with the link between youth sports and beer.

Sport NL runs and supports youth programs, like Sport Fest, but its Molson-Coors sponsorship is reserved for adult sports awards and ceremonies.

Byrne went so far as to suggest at the time that these arrangements were leaning towards "moral bankruptcy."

Byrne's appeal denied

The comments sparked a buzz in the local athletics community, with concerns raised over their timing.

A few weeks earlier, Sport NL had rejected an appeal from the MP to have his 12-year-old son, Gerry Byrne Jr., added to the province's Canada Games ski team. 

A letter confirming that decision, dated Jan. 14, stated that Sport NL upheld an earlier decision from Alpine NL.

Sources within the sporting community privately expressed concern that Byrne's beef with the beer sponsorships was linked to that rejected appeal.

Byrne says that's not true.

"If you weren't in receipt of the full facts, you could come to that conclusion," Byrne told CBC News Wednesday.

The MP added that this is "not in any way, shape, or form a vendetta against Sport NL."

The appeal rejection letter was written on SportNL letterhead, and was signed by the group's appeals committee — including retired judge Robert Wells, who most recently spearheaded the Cougar helicopter inquiry.

"I did not see this as Sport NL," Byrne said. "It was more Justice Robert Wells that I was paying attention to."

Issue of teens and alcohol

Byrne said he raised the issue of brewery sponsorships out of personal concern over the close link between alcohol and sports.

In particular, he pointed to a Conception Bay South teenager who died last December due to alcohol poisoning. 

"This is a major issue facing youth in Newfoundland and Labrador," he said. 

"This is a public debate and a public discussion."

Byrne said constituents raised the issue of beer sponsorships to him, and that's why he brought it forward.

While Byrne admitted to not liking the outcome of the Sport NL appeal, he said the timing is just a coincidence. 

"I'm a little bit bigger than to get my knickers in a knot over this," he said.

Sport NL told CBC News that its role was to simply facilitate the appeal process, and it had no further comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, Byrne said he would like to know how the details of the appeal were leaked to the media. He said he may take his concerns to the privacy commissioner and the child and youth advocate.