By Greg Stutchbury
AUCKLAND (Reuters) - British sports administrator Louise Martin was elected as the Commonwealth Games Federation's first female President on Wednesday after promising to boost the commercial returns and attract top-class athletes back to the Commonwealth Games.
Martin beat the incumbent Prince Tunku Imran of Malaysia at the Commonwealth Games Federation general assembly in Auckland on Wednesday to head an organization that has faced pressure to remain relevant in a crowded sporting market.
The Games have been scrutinized in recent years with cost over-runs and budget blowouts, which have put cities off from bidding for the four-early event.
Only two cities bid for the 2018 Games, which were awarded to Australia's Gold Coast ahead of Sri Lanka's Hambantota, while Durban will be rubber-stamped later on Wednesday as the only bidder for the 2022 Games.
Many top-class athletes have also skipped the Games, with track and field in particular shorn of several headline names who choose to run in lucrative meetings in Europe that clash with the multi-sport event in the calendar.
Martin, who was the vice-chairperson of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, had pledged to boost the commercial opportunities for the Federation and its members and to ensure the Games attracted elite athletes once more.
"I want to make sure the best athletes in the Commonwealth make the Games the cornerstone of their calendars and that the cities are queuing up to bid for," she said.
The former Scotland swimmer said the key to ensuring the top athletes did participate was to work more closely with the international sports federations to ensure they recognized the Games as a major international sporting competition.
Financial uncertainty had also restricted Commonwealth nations from developing athletes, she added.
"To achieve everything I want costs money and as we know, our income is under extreme pressure from our expenditure.
"I believe the answer is to open our doors to commercial sponsorship and while it will be difficult I'm convinced that once we sign our first top-tier sponsor, others will follow."
Prince Imran, who took over from Jamaica's Mike Fennell in 2011, had traded on his work over the past four years to help implement a new strategic direction for the organization and had hoped he would be allowed to see it through.
"We have had our ups and downs," Prince Imran told the delegates in central Auckland.
"It's been a great four years for me but we have got to this stage where we have a strategic plan going forward.
"I just hope you give me the opportunity to finish what we started. We have finally got on the starting blocks. Please let me finish this race."
(Editing by John O'Brien)