Hambantota 2018, Nowhere Near A Certainty
By Dinouk Colombage
Sri Lanka’s ambitious plans to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games have been dealt a severe blow with the Hambantota bid being classed as a medium to high risk.
Despite this worrying sign, Hemasiri Fernando told media last week that the bid had received a good response from many countries. Hambantota’s only rival, the Gold Coast, was marked as a low risk.
The Commonwealth Games Federation released a detailed report evaluating the bids presented by the two hopeful cities. According to the report, Hambantota’s bid, although promising, still presents a medium to high risk. The Gold Coast presents a low risk, subject to the development of its athletes village. Shortly after its release Chairman of the Sri Lanka Olympic Committee and member of the bid committee, Hemasiri Fernando, told media that he was confident of the success of the Hambantota bid.
Is Fernando’s confidence misplaced? Many local media reports have failed to identify the key feature of this report, being the medium to high risk posed by hosting the games in Hambantota. A closer inspection of the evaluation of the two bids presents a less than promising image for Sri Lanka.
The concept of the Hambantota games is that it is based in the seaside town on the South-East of Sri Lanka. According to the report it provides a “greenfield” ‘site on the outskirts of the city for the development of a highly unique and highly compact and integrated Commonwealth park’. Alone this statement would be promising to the event organisers, however, alongside the comments about the Gold Coast it leaves Hambantota wanting.
According to the report, the Gold Coast’s concept of a beachside location provides an attractive backdrop for the games. More importantly for the Australian bid the report also noted that the city is a ‘major tourism destination, the Gold Coast has a variety of well established attractions and regularly deals with large inflows of visitors during peak seasons’.
On the surface the Commonwealth Games Federation report has subtly shown up the Gold Coast as being a more attractive and viable option.
CEO of Hambantota 2018, Nalin Attygalle, expressed his satisfaction that the report concluded that Sri Lanka ‘fundamentally met all the technical requirements to deliver the games’. What are these requirements, and is meeting them enough for Sri Lanka to secure the games?
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, many of these requirements have not been actually met but are in the process of being met. ‘Existing accommodation is limited to only 1,009 rooms; Hambantota has put forward a creative plan to meet the minimum accommodation requirements’ according to the report. This is a familiar theme seen throughout the report’s evaluation of the Hambantota bid. Everything at this point in time is in the planning phase.
Normally this would not be a cause for concern; however, the Gold Coast’s accommodation requirements appear to have already been met. ‘Gold Coast offers a compact accommodation solution involving entirely existing hotel inventory to meet the Games requirements’.
Not only does Hambantota have to drastically expand its existing hotels, they also have to compete with the pre-existing infrastructure in the Gold Coast. Alongside the accommodation factor lagging behind its Australian rival, transport has also been tagged in favour of the Gold Coast. According to the report the Gold Coast has ‘an advanced transport infrastructure’ in place, while Hambantota once again has only been cited as having plans to extend its transport network.
When Attygalle was questioned over the readiness of the bid he responded that ‘there is a seven year period to get ready for the Games. I believe strongly that the whole experience hinges not on being event-ready now but on getting ready over seven years,’ he added. Unfortunately, the final vote is due in just over a month’s time. Being ‘event-ready now’ may be the deciding factor.
The worrying sign for both the committee and the supporters is the estimated high cost of the game. Currently it has been predicted that the total cost will stand at a whopping 1.1 billion pounds, of which 600 million pounds will be provided by the government. The balance is expected to be collected from the private sector. This has been defined as ‘relatively high risk’ by the Federation. For the Gold Coast, their total investment into the games is a far more modest 572 million pounds. The report goes on to state that all funding has been secured, with the guarantee that the government will fund any shortfall.
With the release of the evaluation report it has become clear that the Hambantota bid may not be as secure as originally portrayed. Despite the confidence expressed by the bid group, it appears that the Gold Coast may in fact have the edge over Sri Lanka. The final vote is expected to be held on November 1.