By Duncan Mackay
June 15 - Hambantota is confident of winning its bid to host the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage (pictured right) has claimed, at the same time shrugging off fears that financial problems connected to this year's cricket World Cup could affect its campaign.
The race to host the event in 2018 is entering a critical period with an Evaluation Commission from the Commonwealth Games Federation (GCF) due to begin inspections next week of Hambantota and its only rival, the Gold Coast in Australia.
The Sri Lankan city is considered the outsider but Aluthgamage is hoping that history will repeat itself.
Kuala Lumpur won a vote with Adelaide to become the first Asian city to host the Games in 1998.
"In 1991, when Malaysia was competing, the difference between those two countries was the same like with us today," said Aluthgamage.
"There is no difference.
"Nobody thought that Australia would lose, but Malaysia won."
Sri Lanka's Government are planning to spend up to $4 billion (£2.5 billion) on new facilities and infrastructure if their bid is successful, they revealed today.
Not all of this will be connected to the games, but will be on ports, sports stadiums and other basic infrastructure developments," said Ajith Nivard Cabraal, the co-chairman of Hambantota 2018 and Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
Cabraal is also confident that Hambantota can beat the Gold Coast, who he claims are spending $9 million (£5.5 million) on their bid.
"Members of the Commonwealth present at the bid presentation [in Kuala Lumpur last month] claimed they had underestimated the potential of Sri Lanka," he said.
"In the past 80 years, only a handful of countries had hosted the Games and therefore Sri Lanka, as a new contender, had a better chance."
Cabraal accepted that the Gold Coast would be a lower-risk option for the CGF but it would have would more impact if it were held in Hambantota.
The plans have already been shown to Mike Hooper, the chief executive of the CGF, who visited Sri Lanka earlier this year.
The CGF's Evaluation Commission, which is chaired by Scotland's Louise Martin, will visit the Gold Coast from June 20-23, before travelling to Hambantota from June 27-30, before providing a report in the lead-up to the CGF Assembly in St Kitts and Nevis on November 11, where the host city will be chosen.
"Everything is already in place Australia; they have the stadiums and all the required facilities," said Cabraal.
"But in Sri Lanka we have much more to do.
"It's going to be a huge investment in the country.
"We have a good chance.
"If Malaysia was able to do it at that time, we can do it, too.
"I think that will be reflected in the minds of many countries when they go to vote.
"So we believe that Commonwealth nations will also back Sri Lanka at the voting and we will surprise the world."
Hambantota's campaign to host the Commonwealth Games has coincided with Sri Lanka Cricket calling on the country's Government to help it meet the $69 million (£43 million) bill it spent on co-hosting the 2011 World Cup.
Part of the cost was incurred building the the Suriyawewa Mahinda Rajapakse International Cricket Stadium in Hambantota, which is due to host archery if the Commonwealth Games are awarded to Hambantota.
"Sri Lanka Cricket ran out of funds after hosting the World Cup and sought Government help to settle some payments," said Aluthgamage.
Sri Lanka, which lost the final to India by six wickets, hosted 12 matches during the World Cup, with others held in India and Bangladesh.
"In total, we spent about five billion rupees ($46 million) to build the three World Cup venues," Aluthgamage said.
"It's not a crisis situation yet.
"We are confident [the problem will be solved]."