PLP offered support and scepticism
The 2017 America’s Cup often proved a hard sell with the Progressive Labour Party, which supported bringing the races to the island, but voiced scepticism on its benefits.
The regatta had detractors within its own ranks: champion American sailor Dennis Conner, a four-time winner of the Cup, griped: “There’s not many big boats in Bermuda, the hotels are empty, the TV ratings are bad and the whole thing, I think, will be an economic disaster for Bermuda.”
San Francisco, which hosted the 34th America’s Cup in 2010, was estimated to have lost more than $10 million on the event.
While it was extolled by the mayor, city supervisor John Avalos told the press: “The whole event has been nothing more than a stupefying spectacle of how this city works for the top 1 per cent on everyone else’s dime.”
Getting to host the 35th America’s Cup boiled down to a competition of its own between Bermuda and San Diego, with commentators branding the island a tax haven.
Three years ago, when Bermuda finally secured the America’s Cup, Marc Bean, then Leader of the Opposition, declared his support, saying: “It will be a boost to the island in many different ways and what’s most important now is for everyone to be on board and rowing in the same direction.”
However, Mr Bean also called on the One Bermuda Alliance Government to “just be transparent with us as to the potential cost and the potential benefits”.
During ensuing parliamentary debates, the PLP were accused of unfairly maligning the event, but the activist group the People’s Campaign took exception to the investment in its battle with the Bermuda Government over the denial of a work permit for the Reverend Nicholas Tweed.
In a January 2017 statement, the group declared: “We don’t need an international event to make world news. The Bermuda Government is being watched for their disruptive and petty policies that undermine the social stability of our island.”
And, as the standoff deepened, Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert warned that “the America’s Cup in 2017 will be in jeopardy”.
There was a continued war of words between the OBA and the PLP over the cost of the Cup, with Jamahl Simmons, as Shadow Minister of Tourism, charging that the Government had committed “in excess of $100 million”.
In the Opposition’s reply to the Budget, David Burt told the House that while the America’s Cup was “a good thing” that would provide “some benefit”, he added: “Where we take issue with the event is the One Bermuda Alliance’s consistent refusal to acknowledge the event for what it has been and what it is: an event that appeals to a narrow segment of society.
“The numbers, in terms of both the ratings and the ages of those who follow the sport, demonstrate that this is an event for what was Bermuda, not for what is Bermuda, and certainly not for what we hope to become.”
Contrasting its luxury with the struggles of ordinary Bermudians, Mr Burt suggested that its $71 million price tag was “certain to rise”.
In the wake of the America’s Cup, with New Zealand emerging victorious, hopes were deflated for extra events that would have continued in Bermuda had the American team won.
Calling it “disappointing” that the races were unlikely to return, Mr Simmons added: “Indeed, it’s been good for many Bermudians, but we are concerned that this Government is focused far more on a short-term boost than a long-term investment.”
This September, bringing supplementary budget figures early to the House of Assembly, Mr Burt lamented “an additional $4.3 million in sponsorship guarantees paid to the America’s Cup Event Authority”, among other unbudgeted expenses.