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Sri Lankan fan © Gallo Images

Sri Lanka confident of hosting 2018 games



Sri Lanka is drawing inspiration from Malaysia's successful Commonwealth Games in believing it can beat sole rival Australia in the 2018 bid race.

Hambantota is up against Australian favourite Gold Coast, and Sri Lanka Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage thinks the port town can emulate Kuala Lumpur by heading off a glamorous opponent.

Kuala Lumpur won a vote with southern Australia city Adelaide to become the first Asian city to host the games in 1998.

"In 1991, when Malaysia was competing, the difference between those two countries was the same like with us today," Aluthgamage said on Tuesday. "There is no difference. Nobody thought that Australia would lose, but Malaysia won."

Ajith Nivad Cabral, the governor of Sri Lanka's central bank and co-chairman of the Commonwealth bidding committee, said Sri Lanka showed many of the same economic and social indicators as Malaysia had when it won hosting rights.

"We have a good chance," Cabral said. "If Malaysia was able to do it at that time, we can do it, too."

He said among Commonwealth nations only a handful have hosted the games.

"There are 71 countries within the Commonwealth and many are happy to see new countries emerge to host this event. So that's an advantage for Sri Lanka." Cabral said.

Australia and Canada have hosted the games four times each. England, Scotland and Wales have hosted five games combined, while New Zealand has had three games.

"I think that will be reflected in the minds of many countries when they go to vote," Cabral said. "So we believe that Commonwealth nations will also back Sri Lanka at the voting and we will surprise the world."

The winning bid will be announced in St Kitts and Nevis on November 11.

The contrast between the bidders is vast.

Gold Coast is already developed with most of its sporting infrastructure in place. Nearby Brisbane hosted the 1982 Games.

Hambantota has hardly any infrastructure. The port town emerged on the sporting scene only this year when it hosted two World Cup cricket matches.

It lies on Sri Lanka's southern coast - an area that was severely damaged in the 2004 tsunami - and has no international airport and no international hotels.

Much of the landscape is still covered by thick forests and lush rice fields.

Sri Lanka hopes to spend up to $6 billion on games projects, a colossal sum for a country that is still emerging from a 26-year civil war. Cabral says the country also hopes to reap "tremendous benefits" in terms of infrastructure, investor confidence and employment opportunities.

Aluthgamage says Hambantota's standing has greatly improved since making its bid official.



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