|Sri Lanka’s hopes of hosting their first Games and rebuilding an area devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami were dashed as Australia’s ready-made facilities were deemed more suitable [EPA]|
Australia was celebrating on Saturday after Queensland’s Gold Coast was chosen to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games over Sri Lanka’s Hambantota.
Thousands of people gathered at Gold Coast’s Broadwater Parklands erupted in jubilation as the announcement was shown live from the Commonwealth Games Federation’s general assembly in the Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis.
“My sincere congratulations to Gold Coast – theirs was a fantastic bid and they are a very, very worthy winner,” federation president Michael Fennell said after the 70 nations and territories in attendance voted 43 to 27 for the city.
The decision came after last year’s Games in New Delhi, supposed to showcase India’s status as an emerging global power, instead descended into a welter of embarrassing scandals.
Coastal Hambantota was badly affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and had brought in cricket legend Muttiah Muralitharan to boost its campaign message that hosting the Games would have helped regenerate Sri Lanka.
“Hambantota was also a very strong bid, and we have a duty to take the Games to new places, but the bid needs to be the right thing for the Commonwealth Games movement at the right time,” Fennell said.
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse congratulated Australia and said his nation would aim to do well at the games despite the failed bid.
“This should serve as an added encouragement for them to go to Gold Coast and do very well,” Rajapakse said.
Gold Coast, a sub-tropical tourist hotspot that is home to more than 500,000 people, promised to provide a stark contrast to last year’s host and its “low-risk” message won over delegates.
The 2010 Delhi Games proved troubled, with the sporting headlines overshadowed by venue delays, shoddy construction, corruption allegations and budget overruns that saw the cost of the event triple to six billion dollars.
Australia said hosting the Commonwealth Games for the fifth time, becoming the only nation ever to do so, would allow it to showcase its ability to host major international sporting events and be a shot in the arm for tourism.
Gold Coast is in the southeast of Queensland, a state which is coming back from devastating floods almost a year ago which swamped tens of thousands of homes and briefly shut down the state capital Brisbane.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard welcomed the news which she said would present a huge economic opportunity for Queensland’s second largest city.
“All Australia will be looking forward to hosting the Commonwealth Games,” she told reporters at the APEC summit in Hawaii.
Australia has a long association with the Commonwealth Games, hosting the event four times – in Sydney (1938), Perth (1962), Brisbane (1982) and Melbourne (2006).
The country’s biggest city Sydney held the 2000 Olympics and the nation hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2003.
Gold Coast is known for its fine weather and long beaches and tourism operators said the Games would help revive the flagging sector hurt by last summer’s floods and the soaring Australian dollar.
The Games bring together athletes from 71 Commonwealth countries and the 2014 event is to be held in Glasgow in Scotland.