Resistance grows in Coalition against bid to host 2024 America’s Cup

Concerns build about cost of underwriting project championed by Simon Coveney

A view from the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland on January 29th, 2021. Photograph: Gilles Martin-Raget/AFP via Getty Images

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney faces growing resistance in the Coalition to the State making a formal bid to host the 2024 America's Cup yacht race in Cork.

Mr Coveney has championed the project, arguing the prestigious race is third only to the Olympics and soccer World Cup in terms of scale for host countries.

But others in the Coalition remain unconvinced as concern builds about the cost of underwriting the race. There is also uncertainty over the potential returns from a major State investment in an elite event, at a time when many other sports remain underfunded.

Some officials believe the State could yet face costs exceeding €200 million to run the race, a big burden at a time of post-pandemic constraints on the public finances. A report for the Government by consultants EY projects €150 million in costs and potential economic benefits of €400 million-€500 million, but there is scepticism among the Coalition about the prospect of such gains being realised.

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“Some people say we’ll benefit hugely. To ask for hundreds of millions to be invested you need to quantify it,” said one Coalition figure. “With any bid like that, you have to ensure ducks in a row and value for money.”

Sources in all three Government parties as well as senior officials have privately expressed their concerns about the project.

Global audience

Although supporters of the bid have claimed the event could attract as many as 900 million TV viewers, a recent New Zealand analysis of the last race put the dedicated global audience at 68.2 million.

The doubts over the bid come as Mr Coveney faces a Sinn Féin confidence motion in the Dáil this week over the appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone to a special envoy post.

Supporters hope that Cork will be declared by race organisers this week as the “preferred bidder” to host the contest for the oldest trophy in international sport. Such a move would trigger a negotiation in which the organisers would seek firm funding commitments from the Government.

However, people familiar with talks in the Coalition said there will be no decision on whether to proceed until a due diligence analysis of the EY projections is complete. The Department of Tourism and Sport is said to lack enthusiasm for the project, and the Department of Public Expenditure also has reservations.

‘Upfront payment’

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said on Monday that the race organisers had sought “an upfront payment to advance the process” but didn’t quantify the sum. That question would be considered along with other factors such as the potential benefits when the bid comes before Cabinet, he said.

Race organisers were seeking clarity on the Irish bid by September 17th, although officials said the Government won’t meet that deadline.

Mr McGrath said “an extensive process of due diligence” was under way.

“It is being led by the Department of Sport and Tourism because this is a sporting event and it is one where we are very conscious of the very significant potential benefit it brings to Cork from a tourism perspective but we know there is a particular timeline that the event organisers are working to.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Mr McGrath share the same constituency as Mr Coveney in Cork, where there is widespread support for the plan. Sources said Mr Coveney was awaiting the views of officials before any Government decision.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times