David Burt defended the Government’s financial support for the Bermuda football team as he congratulated them for their achievements at the Concacaf Gold Cup.
The history-making footballers were celebrated at the Cabinet Office yesterday as the Premier handed out certificates of recognition.
He said the whole country was “proud of the performances that were put on the field, and the support was immense throughout the entire community”.
Mr Burt added: “A lot of persons actually criticised the Government for the support which they have given to the Bermuda Football Association during this campaign.”
He announced a $100,000 donation by the Government to the BFA ahead of the first match against Haiti in Costa Rica.
Zane DeSilva, the tourism minister, also pledged $50,000 of his own cash after the team’s victory over Nicaragua in New Jersey.
Mr Burt said: “People have questioned whether the money could have been better spent, whether there were other, more pressing needs.”
The Government “will continue to support excellence”, and he added: “I remember when they qualified; I spoke to the president of the Bermuda Football Association and said, I do not want you all to have to scrape, beg, borrow and steal to make sure you are ready for this competition.”
Cecil and Jeannette Robinson, proud parents of midfielder Cecoy Robinson, who plays for Pembroke Hamilton Club and was the oldest member of the squad at 31, attended with his eight-year-old daughter, Nahla.
Both parents were at the football match at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, where Bermuda beat Nicaragua 2–0. Mr Robinson said the atmosphere in stadium was “awesome — it was electrifying”.
The former PHC player added: “I have played a lot and represented Bermuda myself. Bermuda has never had anything this big. Hopefully, it will up the momentum. It puts us on the map and puts the players in the eyes of coaches looking for players. They might get offers.
“Everything is going to be on a positive momentum. We’ll see what happens from here.”
Ms Robinson added: “It was awesome, a very good feeling — I’m just glad I was there.”
Mr Burt vowed to be part of the crowd when Bermuda take on Panama at home in a Nations League fixture on September 5.
But plans for a motorcade for the players, earlier announced by sports minister Lovitta Foggo, have been scrapped because they were not “considered proportionate at this stage”.
A ministry spokeswoman said: “The ministry recognises the historical feat of the national team’s participation in the Concacaf Gold Cup match coupled with the win earlier this week against Nicaragua.
“In that regard, the ministry has made a decision that in lieu of a motorcade the Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation will host a special luncheon event with the Bermuda national team to mark their historic achievement in the inaugural participation in Gold Cup.”
She added: “The ministry recognises that the Bermuda national team still have upcoming international matches to play.
“Today’s certificate presentation by the Premier and the upcoming youth and sport luncheon and acknowledgement event are considered proportionate at this stage.
“It’s hoped that these two events, along with the public’s continued outpouring of support, will serve to provide additional motivation for our national football team as they prepare for their next round of upcoming matches.”