The performance of Sri Lanka’s rising stars at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games over the past week gave a glimpse of the young sporting talent that will benefit from the country’s ‘life-changing’ bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018, Hambantota 2018 Organising Committee Co-Chair Ajith Nivard Cabraal said yesterday.
Cabraal, also Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, is driving the ‘island jewel of the Indian Ocean’s’ bid to become only the 10th country to host the Games in its 80 year history. His comments came as Sri Lanka picked-up Silver and Bronze at the youth event in the Isle of Man which ended today, and just days after the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) Evaluation Commission published its 144-page report on the two bidding cities: Australia’s Gold Coast and Hambantota.
Teenage sensation Siwanthi Kumari Rathnayaka took Silver in the women’s 400m with a time of 57.15 seconds. And in what Sri Lankan’s will hope could be a twist of fate, women’s badminton doubles pair Achini Rathnasiri and Upuli Samanthika clinched Bronze with a 2-1 victory over Australia. The results saw Sri Lanka finish a respectable 17th of 63 nations in the medal table. But it was the participation of young Sri Lankan’s aged 13-18 in five of the seven sporting disciplines that spoke volumes, Governor Cabraal said.
“I congratulate our three medal winners on their fantastic achievement,” said Cabraal. “And I extend my congratulations to all 25 young Sri Lankan’s who competed in the Commonwealth Youth Games; in athletics, badminton, gymnastics, rugby sevens and swimming. It is a clear indication of how our passion for cricket is turning to a wide range of other sports – and of the young talent growing throughout our unified nation. We have an exciting new generation of sporting stars in Sri Lanka and a Hambantota Games will see them shine.”
Cabraal believes hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2018 will see Sri Lanka stake claims for medals in the same way the country has done extraordinarily well in cricket. Admitted as a Test-plating nation in 1981, Sri Lanka won the World Cup just 15 years later (1996) and finished runners-up in both 2007 and earlier this year when Hambantota itself staged two matches.
“That shows the talent was there but just needed a little inspiration and organisation,” he added. “We look at Malaysia; prior to hosting the Games in 1998 Malaysia’s medal tally was four per Games but has risen to about 35 since. An extraordinary change has taken place as a result of hosting the Games; that’s what we want to emulate.
“If we were given the opportunity of hosting the Commonwealth Games it would be a fantastic opportunity for Sri Lankan youth as well as the organising structures. A Hambantota 2018 Games would give us a fantastic opportunity to get our young people energised in sport in general – and to identify and train talented athletes from a young age.”
Badminton phenomenon Rathnasiri is a prime example of such young talent. The double National Champion became the youngest ever to take the title when, aged just 15, she defeated the then champion of 11 years – 35 year-old veteran Chandrika de Silva – in straight sets. Badminton is now one of a number of sports beyond cricket in which Sri Lanka is fast gaining national and international recognition.
According to Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister and Co-Chairman of the Hambantota 2018 Organising Committee, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, it is “a main hope of a medal for Sri Lanka in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.”
Such ambitions are supported by a new seven-year National Sports Plan launched by Minister Aluthgamage in the New Year. Designed to create a pyramid of sporting opportunity throughout Sri Lanka, its ultimate goal is for the tear-drop shaped nation to rank amongst the top three medal winning Commonwealth countries in 2018. But Sri Lanka’s rising stars will also have one eye on 2016 and the country’s hosting of the South Asian Games in Hambantota. Cabraal calls it “a date with sporting destiny” which means all venues and supporting infrastructure planned for the 2018 Commonwealth Games will be in place two years ahead of time.
“That few of our tailor-made facilities – described by the CGF as the most compact Commonwealth concept designs ever conceived – are currently in place should not be considered a risk by anyone by any means,” added Cabraal. “We have from the outset made 2016 a byword for our bid; our commitment to all CGAs (Commonwealth Games Associations) is that all venues and infrastructure will be ready in 2016, with 2017 used for test events.
“Indeed, the CGF report rightly says that there are huge benefits in bringing the Commonwealth Games to Sri Lanka despite the fact that many of our state-of-the-art venues have not yet been built. That our revolutionary plans could provide a blueprint for future Commonwealth Games. And that our proposition could become a blueprint for the other 61 Commonwealth nations that have never hosted the Games to follow.”
Hambantota’s futuristic ‘Sports City’ development that will feature 90 percent of the venues and facilities for the 2018 Games is already under construction, as are major capital infrastructure projects including sea port and international airport; a high capacity public transport system and new road network are in the pipeline. All venues other than the Velodrome will be developed regardless of the outcome of Hambantota’s bid.
Australia (1938, 1962, 1982, 2006) and Canada (1930, 1954, 1978, 1994) have hosted the Games four times; New Zealand (1950, 1974, 1990) three times; England (1934, 2002) and Scotland (1970, 1986) twice; and Wales (1958), Jamaica (1966), Malaysia (1998) and India (2010) once. With Scotland hosting Glasgow 2014, a Hambantota 2018 Games will install Sri Lanka as the 10th country in a list that would have added three ‘new’ hosts in two decades.
The host city will be announced at the CGF general assembly in St Kitts & Nevis on 11 November 2011.