Keeping our eye on the prize
In recent years the America’s Cup has gone from exemplifying sailing as the ritzy Sport of Kings to becoming one of the kings of televised sporting events.
Traditional notions of yachts and yachtsmen — ketches so very elegant they seem to belong to the fiction of Scott Fitzgerald, not the real world, helmed by Old Money types outfitted in newly pressed white trousers and somewhat ridiculous caps — have been all but obliterated.
The old stereotypes have given way to fleets of stripped-down racing machines crewed by cadres of telegenic and compelling professional sailors. The new breed of America’s Cup competitor engages in white-knuckle competition with the same enthusiasm for speed and bemused disregard for the laws of physics as snowboarders.
Replete with demoralising defeats, hard-won successes and risk-taking crews willing to stake everything on a single gust of wind, the recent America’s Cup contests in Auckland, Valencia and San Francisco Bay have drawn record breaking TV audiences to a sport once considered an elitist pursuit with limited popular appeal.
News that Bermuda is in contention to host the 35th America’s Cup in 2017 should be galvanising the entire community, with Government leading the cheerleading efforts to rally the Island behind this prestigious and internationally celebrated event.
For the fact is a successful America’s Cup bid would not just provide the Island with unrivalled worldwide media exposure, it would also kick-start the long-stalled Bermudian economy into top gear.
The America’s Cup is one of the richest economic prizes among all international sporting events, guaranteeing its host community a triple windfall in terms of increased revenue, jobs and infrastructure investment.
Depending on the final race format decided on by organisers, Bermuda would likely benefit for a minimum of two years from serving as a venue for the America’s Cup. While the actual matches between the defender and the ultimate challenger take place over a matter of weeks (days in some instances), at least some of the preliminary regattas between potential America’s Cup hopefuls would be held here. Then a formal challenger selection series, usually involving anywhere between seven and 13 competing syndicates, would take place entirely in Bermuda to choose the team going up against defending champion Oracle Team USA.
Tourism would be the immediate beneficiary of an America’s Cup series held in Bermuda. Confirmation the Island had secured the Cup would likely prompt land-office business at the Planning Department, with blueprints for long-planned (and long-delayed) new hotels and additions to existing properties being rushed into the process.
Even with additional rooms being added to our total stock in time for the 2017 deadline, participants and vacationers drawn by the event would still likely overwhelm the Island’s hotel capacity. But any remaining shortfalls in hotel or guest house accommodation could likely be mitigated by using cruise ships as floating hotels as was done during both the Valencia and San Francisco America’s Cups.
Additionally, armadas of chartered super yachts carrying thousands of more spectators would almost certainly descend on the Island given the America’s Cup draws a bigger audience than any other event on the international sailing calendar.
The knock-on effects of a successful bid on other sectors of our economy — retail, restaurants, construction, among others — would be instantaneous, profound and long-lasting. Jobs would be created, tourism-related and tax revenues boosted, the Hamilton waterfront not so much redeveloped as completely re-conceptualised to accommodate both participating teams and an influx of America’s Cup-related visitors and media.
Successfully hosting an event of this magnitude will require an all-inclusive, community-wide effort. Everyone will have to be personally, logically and emotionally invested in Bermuda’s effort to secure the America’s Cup and to ensure the Island can complete the massive structural overhaul which will be necessary before the event’s preliminaries begin.
The clock is already running.
Yet barring a single statement to the effect Bermuda is in contention to bring the event to our shores, there has been no attempt to enlighten the community on what would be a genuinely transformative opportunity for the Island. Frankly, there’s been more official verbiage of late about the holiday garbage schedule than the almost unlimited potential of the America’s Cup.
This will have to change, and change very soon, if the entirety of Team Bermuda is to pull together in time to show the world what we are capable of when we work together to attain a common and entirely worthwhile goal.
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