FORMER first minister Henry McLeish has urged the Scottish Government to call time on alcohol advertising in sports after research showed Scotland has more such ads in top-flight football than most European leagues.

Only Belgium has a higher proportion of alcohol advertising than Scotland, the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap) said, with half of the country’s Premiership teams having at least one alcohol company as a main sponsor or partner.

Shaap chairman, Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, said it is time to ban such sponsorship, as his organisation launched its Calling Time campaign.

McLeish, an avid football fan, said the “very special and unique” commitment shown by supporters to their clubs is “being capitalised on by the alcohol industry”.

He said: “We must find a better way to finance Scottish football, finding sponsors with values that align with sports and community, and that’s why I support today’s call for a ban.”

MacGilchrist urged the Scottish Government to “break the bond between alcohol and sport”.

His organisation said sport sponsorship provides alcohol companies with a prominent and highly attractive method of reaching a large audience, which Shaap said could influence how much and how often they drink.

The research, carried out by the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing and Health, found 6.4% of sponsorship in Scottish football is from the alcohol industry, far higher than the 2.6% average across all 10 countries investigated.

Shaap said countries with laws restricting alcohol marketing and sponsorship have comparatively less alcohol sponsorship in their top flight clubs.

Alcohol marketing and sport sponsorship is self-regulated in Scotland and the rest of the UK but the Scottish Government is set to consult on plans to restrict alcohol marketing.

Tom Bennett, of the Scottish Recovery Consortium, said: “Sports sponsorship sends completely the wrong message, especially to our children, that healthy activity is associated with alcohol. It’s completely unacceptable that people are bombarded with alcohol sponsorship when attending their favourite sports events.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We would encourage sporting organisations to diversify sponsorship away from the alcohol industry because it encourages young people to drink alcohol and can have a detrimental impact on those in recovery from problem drinking.

“We will shortly issue a public consultation setting out potential restrictions.”