By Tom Degun in Colombo

CGF_Commission_in_Colombo_30-06-11June 30 - The Hambantota bid for the 2018 Commonwealth Games has received a major boost after an Evaluation Commission, chaired by Scotland's Louise Martin, declared that they were "impressed with the vision for Sri Lanka and Hambantota" following a four-day inspection of the city.

Hambantota are currently in a two horse race with Australia's Gold Coast to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games with the votes of the 71 Commonwealth countries set to determine the winner in St Kitts and Nevis on November 11 this year.

The Gold Coast appeared to have stolen a march on their rivals last week when the five-person Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) Evaluation Commission gave the Australian city extremely positive remarks following their inspection of it.

But Hambantota have hit straight back after receiving equally glowing comments from the Commission at a closing press conference here in the Sri Lankan capital that marked the end of the visit.

"Overall, the proposal of staging the Commonwealth Games in Hambantota is an exciting one and, given the development of the relevant infrastructure, will provide a unique Games experience for the athletes and other Games client groups," said Martin.

"We have been impressed with the vision for Sri Lanka and Hambantota and now have a clear view of where the hosting of the Commonwealth Games could fit within that vision."

The Commission made it clear that a lot of work would need to be done before a 2018 Commonwealth Games in Hambantota, with only one potential venue - the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium - having been constructed so far.

However, Martin made it clear that the Commission is confident Hambantota can deliver on their plan of getting all the venues complete by 2016 when the Sri Lankan city hosts the South Asian Games.

"We met the Hambantota people and those who are already doing the work necessary to build this city and region and we noted substantial progress and have no doubt about the resolve to deliver the necessary infrastructure by 2016," Martin continued.

"It is clear that in meeting the requirements for the 2018 Commonwealth Games important legacies can be generated for the region and, indeed the country."

Martin also praised the Government backing for the bid with the Sri Lankan President's son and MP for the Hambantota District Namal Rajapaksa (pictured centre flanked on right by CGF chief executive Mike Hooper and on left by Martin) having played a key role in meeting with the Commission during their visit.

"The leadership shown by the national and District Governments is impressive," she said.

"The alignment of agencies around the national, regional and Games vision is equally impressive."

During their stay the Commission held high-level discussions with representatives of national, district and local governments and senior representatives of the bid team during its visit.

It was a similar programme to the one they followed when they were in the Gold Coast last week but Sri Lanka will be delighted to receive comments on par with their Australian rivals, which come following the decision from Sri Lankan Cricket (SLC) to cut the initial security budget of 300 million rupees for the visit of the Australian cricket team to Sri Lanka later this year by a third.

The decision was made due to a lack of funds but Sri Lankan Sports Minister and Hambantota co-chairman Mahindananda Aluthgamage has claimed the Australian players will not be at risk when they arrive in August to play three Tests, five one day games and two Twenty20 games.

"Maximum security will be ensured for the visit of the Australian cricket team and they will be kept in a safe environment at all times," he told insidethegames.

"There is no war now in Sri Lanka now and it is a safe country to visit."

Meanwhile, the Commission will now be tasked with producing an evaluation report on the two cities, which will be published before October 11 this year and play a key role in deciding where the 2018 Commonwealth Games are held.

However, Martin's comments today appear to show that there is little to split the two bids with just over five months remaining until the final decision on where the Games is held is announced.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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