Hambantota. Land of ceremonial monuments.
Sri Lanka lost its bid for the Commonwealth Games. The Economist blogger Banyan is reporting that many people are glad. I guess I’m glad too. The last Commonwealth Games were a disaster in Delhi, and Hambantota is definitely not the place to have them.
Have you been to Hambantota? The city is nothing, just a sleepy fishing town, now cut off from the main road by the Port. If you go further there’s Yala, if you go back there’s Tangalle. The latter is lovely, but centered more around Matara or Galle than anything in the Hambantota District. Despite massive government spending there, peoples incomes haven’t improved, the port isn’t actually open and there still isn’t much to do.
The CGF described the bid as “largely virtual”. Which was a polite way of saying that, in its current incarnation, Hambantota is not a terribly happening place. There is little on offer but for a rarely-used cricket stadium, a new port that receives more pedestrian sightseers than it does ships, an oil-tank farm and a rapidly rising international airport with one of the largest runways in the world…
In September 2011, the CGF determined that to stage the games in the Gold Coast would present a low risk to their success while to hold them in Hambantota would pose “a medium to high risk”. But Sri Lanka fought back with the promise of heavy—very heavy—investment. Just about everything was to be built from scratch by 2016, including resorts, an athletics stadium, 18-hole golf course and media centre. (Banyan)
So, am I glad this spending orgy isn’t happening? Yeah, especially after the way the bidding was done:
First, the government paid $2.6m up front to “pmplegacy”, a London-based international management consultancy, to administer the bid. Millions were also spent on incidentals like foreign trips, hosting visiting CGF delegations, chopper rides to and from the proposed venue—faraway Hambantota, on Sri Lanka’s southern coast—and carousing the night away in St Kitts. The government claimed the money came primarily from the private sector, but then mystifyingly declined to name the contributors.
In any case, a mammoth delegation left for the Caribbean a full week ahead of the CGF vote. Aboard the chartered plane were sports personalities, a reigning beauty queen and a former-beauty-queen-cum-actress-turned-politician. And mingling with the politicians, officials and journalists were assorted and sundry businessmen, chefs and a cultural troupe. There enjoyed sing-alongs on board. At St. Kitts, they checked into four-star hotels.
The Sunday Times reports that among the 400 who were present, from 70 sports federations of Commonwealth countries, a full 160 were from Sri Lanka. Only a mere 20 came from Australia. Sri Lanka’s pièce de resistance was a cultural show and dinner at which a specially constructed bar with a thatched roof offered “an unending flow of local arrack and toddy”. (ibid)
However, this is not to say that Sri Lanka shouldn’t bid for this or other events in the future. Just in strategic places. For example, if we’d bid Jaffna, we would have had a much better shot. Jaffna should be Sri Lanka’s second city, and it would have enormous significance at the end of war. Even Colombo could make far better use of new infrastructure (especially public transit). As horrifically embarrassing as the Delhi Games were, as badly as our own sports are organized, getting attention and infrastructure to places that are naturally growing could be worth it.