October 20 - Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), said his organisation will not speculate on the issue regarding threats to expel Sri Lanka's membership of the Commonwealth despite the fact that Sri Lankan city Hambantota is bidding against the Gold Coast in Australia to the 2018 Games.

Calls to remove Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth came after the Australian Federal Police (AFP) recently received a war crimes dossier from the International Commission of Jurists alleging that Sri Lankan authorities shelled innocent civilians during the long civil war in the country that ended in 2009.

AFP Commissioner Tony Negus said the allegations are being treated as "a matter of urgency" and they include claims that Sri Lanka's top diplomat in Australia Thisara Samarasinghe, the former Sri Lankan navy chief, was in charge of ships that fired on unarmed civilians as they fled the fighting in the final stages of the civil war.

The issue is a major distraction for Hambantota who are in the final stages of their closely contested bid race to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games and on November 11, the 71 Commonwealth nations and territories will gather at the CGF General Assembly in St Kitts to vote on whether the Gold Coast or the Sri Lankan city will host the competition.

But Hooper said the issue will have no effect on the bid race and that it is not a matter for the CGF to concern themselves with.

"It's not the Commonwealth Games Federation's role to speculate on stories about individual nations, and membership of the Commonwealth is a matter for the Commonwealth itself and not the Federation," he told insidethegames.

"In St Kitts next month we're simply looking forward to the culmination of a very competitive bid process for the hosting of the 2018 Commonwealth Games."

Hambantota are hoping that hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games will help the country rebuild from the 26-year-long civil war in Sri Lanka which began in 1983 and saw an estimated 100,000 people killed the fight between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Earlier this year, the Hambantota bid was forced on the back foot when British broadcaster Channel 4 aired a one-hour documentary in June entitled Sri Lanka's Killing Fields.

It documented the final stages of the conflict and showed horrific footage including Government soldiers executing bound prisoners; the dead bodies of naked, abused women dumped in a truck and the bombing of civilian hospitals.

Sri Lankan Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage (pictured above right with Hooper) told insidethegames that it was "a completely false documentary" that would have "no bearing on the Hambantota 2018 bid for the Commonwealth Games at all."

But as the latest allegations emerge, the Hambantota 2018 bid have found an unlikely ally in Gold Coast 2018 bid chairman Mark Stockwell who says his team are unconcerned by the issue and simply focused on a great competitor.

"Sri Lanka has just finished 24 years of civil war and there are a lot of people around the world who want to see Sri Lanka get on with life and that's the thing that I'm really concerned about," said Stockwell.

"I mean they're a great competitor and we want to run the Commonwealth Games because we love the Games and we love a good sporting event.

"The Sri Lankans are looking at this as a nation building exercise."

Stockwell's comments come just a week before Perth hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011 from October 28-30.

It will be hosted by the Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard while Queen Elizabeth, the Head of the Commonwealth and the Patron of the CGF, has already arrived in Australia ahead of the event with husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, where she has been warmly greeted by the public.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also due be in attendance at the meeting where the war crimes allegations are certain to be brought up.

-Tom Degun

Source: www.insidethegames.biz


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