St. Kitts - Australia's Gold Coast will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games, winning the vote on Friday as delegates opted for its ready-made facilities ahead of the ambitious development plans of the Sri Lankan city of Hambantota.
The 70 members of the Commonwealth Games Federation meeting in this Caribbean nation voted 43-27 to award the 21st edition of the games to Australia for the fifth time, denying Sri Lanka's hopes of hosting its first.
The strength of Gold Coast's bid was its access to existing sporting facilities and good infrastructure, while Hambantota, in an area devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, promised new stadiums, an international airport and other infrastructure by 2016.
"The hard work has paid off," said Anna Bligh, Queensland's premier. "The Commonwealth Games is one of the most significant sporting games in the world."
About 90 kilometers (50 miles) south of Brisbane and with a population of around 540 000, Gold Coast is the first regional Australian city to host the games, following the state capitals of Sydney in 1938, Perth in 1962, Brisbane in 1982 and Melbourne in 2006.
"It was a close contest. A lot of delegates I talked to were really torn," said Mark Stockwell, a former Commonwealth Games swimming champion and Gold Coast bid chairman. "I hope that Sri Lanka will put their hand up again."
New Delhi hosted the 2010 games and Glasgow is scheduled to stage the event in 2014.
The competing bids made their final, 30-minute presentations to delegates immediately before Friday's vote.
Hambantota hoped to be just the third Asian host, following Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1998 and New Delhi, and offered the Commonwealth Games Federation a chance to take its flagship event to new ground.
The Sri Lankan government bankrolled the Hambantota bid, hoping to use the games as a catalyst to develop a new economic and sporting hub for its Southern Province which was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage - part of a 60-strong Sri Lankan delegation to St. Kitts which included cricket great Muttiah Muralitharan - challenged CGF voters to select Hambantota to prove that it's not only advanced economies that can host such major international events.
"Sri Lanka has demonstrated quite clearly that it does have the capacity to host the games," said Michael Fennell, outgoing president of the Commonwealth Games Federation. "It's a matter of timing and how the bids are put together."
The Gold Coast bid proposed to primarily use and upgrade existing sites, including cycling and shooting facilities which were used during the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. The glitzy tourist area also promoted the sun, surf and sand lifestyle that attracts 11 million visitors annually.
The Gold Coast games will encompass the core Commonwealth Games sports of athletics, badminton, boxing, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby sevens, squash, swimming and weightlifting and seven optional sports which will likely include basketball, shooting, table tennis, cycling, gymnastics, triathlon and wrestling.
At Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, hundreds of people gathered early Saturday morning in a central square to watch the announcement.
When Fennell announced the Gold Coast as the winning bid, loud cheers went up and some cracked open bottles of champagne. Sporting competitions and a rock concert were scheduled later in the day.
"No doubt, this is just the start of the Gold Coast's renaissance," Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy said following the announcement. "This is a very welcome tonic for Queensland, which has endured its fair share of setbacks and shocks in recent times."
Flooding in eastern Australia since November, most of it in southern Queensland state, killed 35 people, damaging or destroying more than 35 000 houses and inundating crops.