The Times of India (Hambantota): We’ve gushed over how quickly Hambantota got ready for the World Cup, we cursed how far it is from the main city and ran out of count of the number of difficulties one had to face to reach the venue where the two World Cup matches were staged and staged successfully at that.
Now, as the Hambantota party ends, it’s time to take stock of the pros and cons of having a $ 9 million cricket venue in an essentially poor territory. Namal Rajapasa, son of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose brainchild the stadium is and who is Member of Parliament from this region, allays the fears of the people who think this could be a white elephant and lays down his plans to bring the Commonwealth Games here in 2018. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: You’ve realised your goal of having international cricket matches staged here, the tough task is to sustain interest in cricket among the locals after these two World Cup games.
A: It’s not tough. Certainly not as tough as convincing the Cricket Board and the other authorities to come and build this facility. When we identified the land in 2006, this was a poor village. The road was only eight feet wide and it was made of mud. Now, because of the stadium, we have a double road. So development has taken place. We are happy to bring the WC to Hambantota, but we don’t want to relax. We have bigger plans in store to develop this place.
Q: Now that international matches have been held here, will it help discover talented cricketers from here too?
A: Of course! Did anyone expect talent to emerge from tiny places like Matara? Didn’t it produce a Sanath Jayasuriya? A legend! There is talent here too, but the only thing people lack here is opportunity. Now with this stadium comes a chance of them getting a window, an opportunity and I hope they grab it.
Q: You mentioned bigger plans. What are they?
A: We have bid for the Commonwealth Games. We will be constructing a state-of-the-art athletics stadium next year. We are getting a lot of help from the Indian Government as well as other countries. We are hoping to make this the sports village and we are also planning to construct a private university here whereby the university students will be able to use this as a training facility. By the middle of this year, the construction of a five star hotel will begin. Next year we are going in for a golf course. A Chinese company has already come up with a proposal.
Q: But there’s hardly any infrastructure? Teams for the World Cup too stayed far away?
A: By November 2012, a fully functional international airport will be ready and that will boost air connectivity for athletes and cricketers who will be travelling here. We have signed a host of contracts with five-star hotel companies like JW Marriot, Hyatt and Shangri-La.