October 31 - Hambantota has a compelling argument to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the leader of its only rival, the Gold Coast, has admitted.
With only 11 days to go until the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) General Assembly vote in St Kitts and Nevis on November 11 on which city should host the Games the race is becoming increasingly competitive.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (pictured) allegedly broke an agreement he had with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard not to promote Hambantota's bid at a special breakfast organised by the CGF during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth last Saturday (October 29).
She made only a brief mention of the Gold Coast as having put in a bid, saying Australia would host an ''outstanding Games''.
But Rajapaksa used his 10-minute speech to make a concerted pitch for votes.
Gillard, in turn, has angred the Sri Lankans by questioning the country's human rights record following allegations that they committed atrocities against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) following their final push that defeated the separatists in 2009 following the 26-year-long civil war in the country.
Mark Stockwell, the chairman of Gold Coast 2018, acknowledged that Rajapaksa embodies the determination shared by everyone associated with Hambantota to pull off what less than a year ago would have seemed an unlikely triumph.
He fears that Hambantota's bid could benefit from the support of many of the emerging nations who make up the 72-member CGF.
"That speech [on Saturday] by Sri Lanka's President should be enough to rock the boat of any Australian," he told Australian Associated Press (AAP).
"This would be the biggest event this country will host in the next eight to 10 years and I think all Australians should be behind it.
"But Sri Lanka is looking at it as a nation building exercise.
"We want a good sporting event, a good party, good celebration and let's get the city moving, but Sri Lanka is saying this is the focus that could change their country.
"That's a pretty compelling argument to a lot of the developing nations who have a vote."
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh says the Games would help boost the Gold Coast's economy and take the city to a new level, as they did for Brisbane in 1982.
"But the most exciting thing is the mood, the vibe, that the Games will bring," she told AAP.
"An international event like this brings a massive buzz as the city transforms itself."
By Duncan Mackay