Ireland has withdrawn from its bid to hold the America's Cup yachting competition in Cork in 2024, the Government has confirmed.
It means Cork will lose out on hosting the competition, which is the most high-profile yachting race in the world. There are growing expectations Barcelona will be announced as the winning bidder this week.
Cork TD and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney championed the bid last summer, but there was significant scepticism across Government which said it needed a further six months to examine the case for supporting the Cork bid. Ministers and senior officials were afraid supporting the bid would cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions for an uncertain return.
Mr Coveney also failed to secure the backing of Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Catherine Martin.
In a statement the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism said Ms Martin and junior minister for sport Jack Chambers acknowledged that "hosting such an event would have brought positives for tourism in Cork and the wider region and are committed to providing strong support to the tourism sector to rebuild as quickly as possible.
“However, it is also recognised that a very considerable amount of expenditure would have been required to deliver the event at a time of major and growing demands on the Exchequer and this had to be taken into account in arriving at a decision.”
The Catalan business minister Roger Torrent told Catalan radio on Monday that an agreement had been reached with the race organisers to bring it to Barcelona in 2024. An announcement is due to be made by Thursday, March 31, reports said.
The news will come as a disappointment to Mr Coveney and supporters of the bid in Cork. Last year he described the event as third only to the Olympics and the World Cup as a global sporting event.
The President of the Cork Chamber of Commerce Paula Cogan said the event was "ours to lose", describing it as a "once in a lifetime opportunity for Cork, for Ireland, to host such a huge global sporting event."
A spokesman for Cork publicans said it would be a “travesty” if the event did not come to Cork.
But despite lobbying within Government by Mr Coveney, ministers and senior officials harboured doubts about the case for underwriting the race. There was 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 believed the State could face costs exceeding €200 million to run the race, a big commitment at a time of considerable spending pressures on the public finances due to Covid-19. A report for the Government by consultants EY projected €150 million in costs and potential economic benefits of €400 million-€500 million, but there was a high degree of scepticism in the Coalition about the prospect of such gains being realised. There was also some political concern about spending public money on an elite sport while grassroots sport continues to struggle for funding.