All bets are off as rumour mill sends bookies into a panic

Bookmakers reacted swiftly to the crisis engulfing Cronulla, suspending betting on the club’s round-one clash with Gold Coast as well as other markets.
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While the bookies maintained they did so as a precaution, they were quick to halt betting on Sunday’s game, as well as the markets on most losses and to miss the top eight. TAB Sportsbet spokesman Glenn Munsie stressed the measure was precautionary only after the rumour mill went into overdrive on Wednesday.

“All we’re hearing is there are investigations and they (ASADA) are interviewing people at Cronulla,” Munsie said. “We’re not saying there’s anything wrong there, but we need to protect people who don’t know what’s going on. It’s suspended until we find out some further information.”

Tattsbet’s Gerard Daffy told AAP his agency had suspended betting on the Sharks game and a number of its futures markets at 4.30pm on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of rumour and innuendo, particularly about one side, the Sharks,” he said. “There’s rumours a lot of players are going to be stood down, and not all from the one club.”

Sportingbet Australia spokesman Bill Richmond said his agency had also stopped betting on the Sharks-Titans game. “We stopped all markets associated with the Sharks game,” Richmond said. “We have calls from people already wanting to back the Gold Coast.”

The Sharks, still without a stadium sponsor and the only club without a major backer, had just secured a sleeve sponsor. However, plans for an announcement are likely to now be on hold. The timing couldn’t be any worse for the club or the game. The Sharks were expected to be major contenders for the 2013 title, and heading into the season were $11 to win the grand final

after adding Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan and Jonathan Wright to an already impressive roster.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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League shock as Sharks hunted

Rugby league has been thrown into chaos on the eve of the season after speculation Cronulla were to become the first big victim of the Australian Crime Commission’s investigation into drugs in sport. Up to 14 players are believed to have been told they are facing a minimum six-month ban.
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Fairfax Media understands the players have received legal advice suggesting they admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs in the hope of avoiding longer suspensions. It is understood the players refused.

Devastated Sharks officials are resigned to being without a host of star players for the season, some of whom could be suspended before their season-opening match against the Gold Coast on Sunday.

Bookmakers suspended betting on the game amid speculation Cronulla were negotiating with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority officials to cut a deal which would result in bans of just six months. Eight players from other clubs have also been implicated. The NRL refused to comment.

Sharks insiders believe a former staffer has turned whistleblower on the Shire club, one of six rugby league teams named in the ACC’s report into the integrity of Australian sport, alongside Newcastle, Manly, Penrith, Canberra and the North Queensland Cowboys.

ASADA officials interviewed staff from the club during the week and are expected to continue their inquiries in the coming days. Sharks players, some accompanied by their agents, were summoned to a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the situation. Coach Shane Flanagan cancelled media engagements and a planned store appearance as the club locked down. Wednesday’s training session was held behind locked doors.

There were reports an emergency Sharks board meeting was called on Wednesday night to decide the club’s fate but club spokesman Rob Willis denied this.

The Cronulla club operates without a chief executive, and its chairman, Damian Irvine, is overseas.

It is understood the focus of ASADA’s investigations revolve around the time sports scientist Stephen Dank spent at the club in 2011. He was at Cronulla only a short while, falling out with team doctor Dave Givney. Sources said some players were concerned they were being investigated for their dealings with Dank after he left the club. Dank has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

”Sharks fans and all rugby league supporters can be assured the club has been very proactive in fully co-operating with ASADA and taking other measures that prioritise the integrity of our club and the welfare of our playing group,” the club said in a statement.

”While there are strict boundaries around what we can say while the ASADA investigation is ongoing, fans should be assured that as soon as there is an opportunity to provide further information we will do so.”

An ASADA representative refused to comment on the latest developments and wouldn’t confirm the meetings with the Sharks.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Big dreams, but little tribes rule the roost

It’s the last Friday of a soggy pre-season, and again the northern beaches are flooded. Instead of jumping castles and kicking games at Brookie, the Sea Eagles’ launch has been moved to the leagues club. Undaunted, hundreds of supporters press in to have their photos taken and jerseys signed. Here are the Stewart brothers, Jamie Lyon, some unfamiliar young guys, Igor the Eagle, as the players come in from afternoon visits to hospitals and schools.
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There are the trademarks of the ad hoc event: a dodgy microphone, a late-running schedule and, Manly being Manly, some officials giving others a wide berth. But no amount of rain or mayhem can douse the defiant excitement you get in a community club at its season launch. It might be damp, but here and in 15 other clubs, this is the smell of hope.

Though its central administration is corporate, rugby league is a fundamentally local game. In cricket, Michael Clarke and Shane Watson appear for their clubs once. The endless cricket summer has no linear narrative. With league, the heroes of the sport are locally embedded, and the season has a clear ending, which 15 clubs prefer to forget, and a beginning, which is now.

Manly chief executive David Perry sums it up: “When you finish the season in October it feels like a long period for fans and players to wait. Everyone’s a bit restless now.”

The coach, Geoff Toovey, describes his mood as one of “nervous excitement”. “The players are chomping at the bit. They’re well and truly over running around the oval. Bring on Brisbane.”

Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who became a father last month, is ready. “To be honest, my partner’s doing most of the work getting up through the night. I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing my bit to support her.”

This is the tingling of early autumn. Manly, twice premiers in the past four seasons, have a dozen new players to inject hunger. In Brad Arthur and Andrew Johns, it has two high-profile new assistant coaches. Every start is a fresh one, for every player and every club. But in the bigger picture, 2013 is truly fresh, with a new broadcast deal and new chief executive, and the first fully prepared season of the Australian Rugby League Commission.

The commission was designed to shift power to the clubs. This is significant, because so many of the clubs face uncertainty that can only be alleviated by unity. “The clubs are the key stakeholders, and we’re hoping the new money and resources will be used wisely,” Perry says.

Toovey says: “We’re hoping to see positive changes. It’s such a great game, we believe it can be even greater. We’re excited at the possibilities of the commission doing it for us.” And yes, there is a new referees’ administration. Rugby league has always been the game that will change itself for the sake of the spectacle, and of the fans.

League is a fans’ game, which creates a tension between the aims of the centre and the needs of the local.

Adam Muyt, a Manly supporter, says the league is “chugging along beautifully as a game to watch. Its simplicity is its advantage. In the last few years the standard has got better and better.” But as a Manly fan, there is the constant spectre of nationalisation and rationalisation. Broadcasters have not paid millions to please northern beaches locals; the aims of the game’s chiefs are distinctly anti-local.

Keeping the big picture and the small linked is the challenge facing not only Manly, Muyt says, but all clubs. “The demographic shifts concern me,” he says. “Manly is not the same place as in the 1960s and ’70s. No place is, but that’s Manly’s biggest problem long term. Add in the push to rationalise the grounds. Brookie feels like it’s still 1978. The problem with rationalising is that Sydney is much more geographically decentralised than Melbourne, with the clubs a long way out and people strongly identified with them.”

Muyt says he would not follow league if Manly were rationalised – as they were, into the ill-fated Northern Eagles, 13 years ago. But the perennial tide keeps moving against Sydney community clubs. “The heart and soul of rugby league has shifted 1500 kilometres north,” Muyt says. “The strength of the game is its Queensland base. It might not sit well with Sydney, but Queensland could support two more teams at least. Papua New Guinea and New Zealand could probably have more teams. Does going national and international mean going back to the push to rationalise the Sydney teams?”

Up in Queensland, Matt O’Hanlon has been involved as a player, coach, even ground announcer, for decades. When Manly travel north this week, he will be with a thousand others at the Beenleigh Annual Prawn Luncheon, the appetiser for a trip to Lang Park. O’Hanlon is a “bigoted rugby league follower – there’s no other game”, though he does not follow any club. “I was a Newtown supporter, then Wests, then the South Queensland Crushers. Clubs are happy for me not to support them,” he says. He is a season ticket-holder at Lang Park, and goes to Gold Coast matches. A high school teacher, O’Hanlon agrees on the game’s northern strength. “Junior numbers are up in south-east Queensland. The kids at school are a barometer, and every Monday they’re talking about league.”

Anti-Sydney feeling has made the game national. O’Hanlon says: “Hardly a Queenslander wouldn’t say Melbourne is their second team.” The Storm, with its Queensland Origin stars and Super League foundations, is the league’s southern shopfront. Yet the local-national tension also complicates the Storm’s position. Paul Dalligan, a South Sydney supporter who moved to Melbourne seven years ago, says: “Melbourne people are never going to get better rugby league than this Storm team produces. That’s what worries me.” The game is still battling in the AFL stronghold, where, Dalligan says, “they wouldn’t know Gorden Tallis from Gordon Ramsay”.

AFL’s crowds dwarf rugby league’s. Dalligan says he is often asked ” ‘If your sport’s so good, why are your crowds so low?’ My response is, first, NRL’s a much better television sport than AFL, which is shown in the NRL’s television rights being worth $50 a minute more. And second, Sydney is not as centralised as Melbourne. People want to watch their team locally, whereas in Melbourne they’re happy to come to the MCG.”

Dalligan, like O’Hanlon and Muyt, belong to a community of league tragics who contributed to the inaugural Rugby League Almanac, a publishing idea imported from the AFL this year, in which fans write reports on every match. Dalligan supports South Sydney, and on Thursday will travel north to see his team play the Roosters. “I’m more confident than I have been, which is dangerous,” he says. But a Rabbitoh fan bears too many scars to be complacent. Dalligan says league wrecked his first marriage. “Souths were leading against the Broncos, and Gorden Tallis scored in the last minute. I was in the foetal position in the shower. My then wife walked in and saw me, and the look on her face said, ‘No . . .’ “

Hoping to prolong Dalligan’s agony will be Roosters diehard Brett Oaten, also an Almanac writer. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated Souths, as is required. The Roosters and Souths have never had good years at the same time. That makes this year particularly interesting,” he says.

Being a glamour team sits more easily with the Roosters, but Oaten has had his share of heartbreak. “I think I’ve loved them more than they’ve loved me back . . . I’ve had the same season tickets for 15 years. I like going to the footie even when we lose. I get angry, but keep coming back.” For this week, he says: “I’m nervous. All my mates are nervous. And we’re not even playing.”

That nervousness is all about to come to a head, from all corners of the rugby league nation. Matt Tedeschi, who lives in Orange and supports the Canberra Raiders, will travel to Penrith for their first game. “I’ve been counting down the weeks and days. It’s been a boring summer waiting,” he says.

It’s been even longer for Peta Bryant, who epitomises the transcendence of league fandom. Last year, Bryant lived in Cambodia and was only able to follow league online. “I was coming last in the family tipping comp,” she says. “I’m just looking forward to seeing any game live, it doesn’t matter who.”

Bryant is club-agnostic; she just loves her league. “Some families go to church on Sundays. For us it was going to the grandparents’ for lunch, then settling down to watch the Sunday afternoon league game.” Who she follows “depends on which family member I’m watching with. There are Bulldogs, Knights and Dragons fans among us. They get into me for my lack of loyalty, but it’s the game I love, not a team. I know that’s unusual.” It is her own way of conquering the local-national tension: support the game itself. Back in league civilisation, she will spend the 2013 winter in Canberra. “I’ll be going to watch Raiders games, for sure. That’ll give me a fourth team.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Wireless for sound

There’s nothing wrong with pimping out your smartphone when the aftermarket looks and sounds this good.
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Logitech’s UE Mobile Bluetooth Boombox speakers mark the dawn of a new age of wireless speakers – no cords and wires to trip over, no hunting down a power point to plug into, and no back injuries lugging hefty stereo speakers into the backyard for an alfresco soiree.

Weighing a tiny 298 grams, the portable Boombox packs a punch for sound, despite its tiny build, putting out almost 80 crisp decibels.

How loud is that? Well, a vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, electric shaver and city traffic rank at about 80 decibels, so that’s a reasonably banging level from a speaker only 11 centimetres wide and six centimetres deep.

Its transportable size and sub-$100 price make the neon noise maker a terrific device to pair with your smartphone or tablet; a mouthpiece for your digital tunes, if you don’t fancy investing in an expensive micro hi-fi system (with a phone dock that will be obsolete as soon as Apple decides to run with a new connector size – oh, wait, that’s already happened).

It’s light enough to carry in a handbag or carry-on, and lets you control your music from up to 15 metres away.

There’s also a built-in microphone for hands-free calls and the ability to connect to two Bluetooth devices at the same time, which would make it easy to rotate people’s playlists at a party as opposed to yelling at the designated DJ to play your favourite track.

Beyond the impressive tech specs, the Boombox has got some real styling swagger, sporting a retro metallic grille in five pop-art colour schemes and a curved rubber casing.

The battery life of the Boombox is impressive, too. We went three days of on-and-off use around the house, probably more than eight hours of listening, before needing to recharge. Booyah, the little loudspeaker goes the distance.

Verdict Big sound for a little price, where and when you want it.

RRP $99.95, from leading retailers.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Podcasters take aim, hit targets

Loose format: Richard Haridy (left) and Luke Buckmaster record in Buckmaster’s lounge room. Photo: Jason SouthPodcasting is a great format for talking about your passions, whether they are politics, music, sport or whatever sparks you up. Creating a podcast is like creating your own global radio show.
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Podcasts have been around for a while but have not taken off in the way of blogs, Facebook or Twitter. This is a shame, because there are so many free, original and interesting podcasts around.

The word ”podcast” is a combination of iPod and broadcast. In 2005, The New Oxford American Dictionary selected ”podcast” as its word of the year. Since then, high-speed broadband and simpler ways of producing podcasts means it is easier than ever to get your voice online without much technical knowledge.

Put a podcast on your blog, website, iTunes, or pitch to other websites that host podcasts, such as radio station 3RRR, or topic-specific websites such as squirrelcomedy上海夜网m for Australian comics.

Film reviewers Luke Buckmaster and Richard Haridy record The Parallax Podcast in Buckmaster’s lounge room. They have been podcasting for about a year, and their fortnightly half-hour podcasts are available on Crikey and iTunes.

”We love podcasting because it’s fun,” Buckmaster says.

They estimate they have about 500 listeners, based on Crikey page hit statistics, but this can spike up to 1000 when, for example, they have guests such as John Safran. ”That episode still gets traffic,” Buckmaster says.

They encourage listeners to tweet feedback and, sometimes, as part of a competition. ”It’s important to foster a relationship with your audience,” Buckmaster says. ”We keep the format loose, informal and light. We joke around. We have a drink while we’re doing it. We don’t write intros; it’s off-the-cuff. People can hear the difference between reading a script and talking naturally.”

The pair have learnt how to operate as a team, knowing when to speak and when to let the other person speak. ”It’s important to be in the same room. The most important thing is the chemistry between hosts.”

Haridy adds: ”Making podcasts gives us the freedom to talk about whatever we want to. We are not beholden to any formula in a radio environment – recently, Luke spoke to a taxi driver about films. We’ve learnt to make the show tighter, as well as more casual … We are creating the type of show we want. We ended up discovering our own formula.”

Haridy’s favourite podcasts include Hell Is for Hyphenates, a local film podcast; Doug Loves Movies; and This American Life.

They record using a Zoom H2N portable recorder. ”We put it on a table between us. This allows us to be more casual and not be worried about holding mics a certain distance away,” Haridy says. ”We record in chunks. We record the intro and outro separately. We review a film and then stop. I then take all the little bits and make it into a show. I edit it with Pro Tools, adding in soundtracks from movies.”

Over at 3RRR, human rights lawyer Ben Schokman has been producing a fortnightly podcast, Right Now Radio, for more than four years. His guests range from barrister and human rights activist Julian Burnside to people who work in the community.

”Podcasts are a way of getting the human rights message to reach new and different audiences than we normally would as human rights lawyers,” Schokman says. ”Podcasting is also a good experience for us to be better communicators – to deliver messages other than writing detailed legal documents.”

The two co-hosts record in the 3RRR studio, and individual reporters use a mix of hand-held recorders away from the studio. The podcast is edited using Audacity (audacity.sourceforge上海夜网).

Endlessly talking sport in the pub with mates in 2005 led soccer fanatic Chris Knowles to make the podcast A Game of Two Halves.

”We record our conversations on Skype, as all of us are never in the same room,” Knowles says.

He also runs Melbourne Podcast Meetup, supporting podcasters since 2011.

”We used to meet in a pub and talk, but now we make it more practical and get people in to speak to us,” he says.

Past speakers include a radio documentary producer, a sound engineer, and a solo sailor who spoke about how he managed to publish a podcast while sailing across the ocean.

”People also come to the meet-ups for help on the technical side,” Knowles says. ”Understanding the equipment is one of the myths of podcasting. It’s actually easy to do. The content is the key, not the equipment. If the content is dull, it doesn’t matter how good the quality of your podcast is.”

Knowles is disappointed that there is no YouTube-type equivalent for podcasts. ”There is no slick, free tool for podcast distribution.”

Podcast tips

1. Before recording, listen to a few podcasts to get an idea of the good, the bad and the ugly. Look at some podcast reviews and rankings, for example: 52podcasts上海夜网m; podfeed上海夜网/feedburner_rankings.asp; podcastpickle上海夜网m.

2. Have something interesting to say. Prepare an outline and some dot points, and then pretend that you are talking to your friends.

3. Prepare interview questions. Remember not to hog the limelight when interviewing.

4. Edit out the ums and ahs, as well as the boring bits. Add some music and sound.

5. Have a web page, Facebook or Twitter account so your listeners can interact between podcasts, and you can post updates.

LINKS

■ meetup上海夜网m/Melbourne-Podcast-Meetup-Group

■ libsyn上海夜网m

■ podcastingnews上海夜网m/topics/Podcasting_Software.html

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Monsters excite TV sellers

Big televisions measuring 140 centimetres and more have become the bright spot of a struggling industry. Nobody in the supply chain makes much money on tellies but the margins are best at the big end.
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Buyers like big televisions too. According to industry research company GfK, in the last quarter of 2012 it’s what 15 per cent of buyers chose. This is one reason we’re seeing the emergence of monsters as big as four 106-centimetre screens stacked two-by-two. They’re almost as big as projection systems but a brighter and sharper. And they’re certainly more flexible and less finicky to operate.

But they cost a lot. One can’t help thinking that their prices reflect the manufacturers’ desperation to make televisions profitable again.

One retailer we visited was giving just $1 change out of $20,000 on Sharp’s 229-centimetre Aquos. Compare that with the 178-centimetre Aquos, by no means a small screen, that he’d priced at $3488.

The most breathtaking of these monsters are the ultra-high-definition (UHD) models from Sony and LG. In any comparison they trounce the full high-definition models around them. Both 213 centimetres, the LG is $15,999 and the Sony $24,999. We can’t see the extra $9000 in the Sony.

Before embracing UHD, pause and consider: First, it looks best playing UHD software through a UHD source unit. UHD software hardly exists, UHD broadcasts don’t exist; at least not here yet. But they’ll bump your current viewing up a notch or two. While impressive, this still doesn’t work the screen to full capacity.

Second, UHD is presented with giant screens because with anything less than 140 to 150 centimetres, you won’t notice much difference anyway.

Third, if you want a monster screen, you’ll need a monster room. Installers suggest the ideal viewing distance for such screens is at least four metres. Most people sit about three metres from their screen. Salespeople impress customers by pointing out that UHD screen definition is brilliant even close-up, whereas at that distance from a conventional screen, you can pick the pixels. True enough, but get back from the conventional TV to where you’d sit and this screen-door effect disappears anyway.

LG 84LM9600213-centimetre ultra-high-definitionSpotted for $15,990It’s not just large, it has the works — passive 3D, two-player gaming, BigPond Movies, a gesture-control remote, you name it. The picture resolution is nothing short of jaw-dropping; it comprehensively outperforms other televisions and projection systems of similar cost. It’s also good-looking, with slim cabinet borders and a chromed stand. At 70 kilograms, wall mounting is probably best. 192 x 112 x 4 centimetres (WxHxD).

Sharp LC90LE740X229-centimetre full high-definitionSpotted for $19,999This is the biggest LCD screen on the market and it’s a ripper, and feature packed with 3D, Skype and lots else. It’s as big as many projection systems but far brighter and sharper — which it should be, for the price, especially up against the LG UHD. Yet side by side and showing the same non-UHD content, there isn’t a lot between these two, especially at a comfortable viewing distance. 205 x 121 x 12 centimetres (WxHxD), 64 kilograms.

Samsung ES9000191-centimetre full high-definitionSpotted for $8999We saw this at two stores: one had it playing a Samsung demonstration disc that did the picture quality no favours, while the other (priced at $9499) had it on an animated movie that looked great — but animations look good on any screen. This is the bargain of the monster screens and it’s also the best-looking, but the picture doesn’t stack up. It is fully featured, however, including 3D, Skype, and inbuilt wireless. 168 x 98 x 3.6 centimetres (WxHxD), 44 kilograms.

VerdictFor sheer picture quality, the LG is sensational. For size, the Sharp stands alone. And the picture’s very good. The Samsung? If you’re into saving money, why not get a 178-centimetre Sharp? It may be smaller, but you’ll save more than $5000 and the picture is better. But no matter what you buy, to do it justice you’ll need a good external speaker system.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Click into TV stardom

Next level: Online, self-produced shows such as Leo Dale’s Swampy’s World challenge exisiting TV broadcast models.A s the great Bob Dylan warbles, ”the times, they are a-changin”’, though perhaps not in the way the singing social commentator supposed in 1964.
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Technology, spread by the torrents of zeroes and ones surging through the web of fibre-optic cables wrapping our planet, is changing our lives at light speed. Old rules have been hurled aside in retail trading, music delivery, newspapers, radio, education and more. And it’s only just starting. Innovation, inspiration and change are making dents in and sometimes exploding whole industries. But despite the upheaval, their genesis is often small. The technology is here, the cost modest, even free. All you need is inspiration and intellectual perspiration.

Leo Dale, who lives in Footscray, says he has seen the future and it is full of promise. Dale is a jazz musician, a videographer, music curator and yogi. He is also an artistic photographic chronicler of his time (see an example here).

He is of the rising trend that says network TV is the next big industry to be challenged by the internet and entrepreneurs large and, like him, small. It’s happening in a massive way through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other engines.

Apple technology opened the door for Dale, helped by a grant from Maribyrnong council. With his MacBook Pro, a Canon 5D Mark II camera, some good lenses and audio equipment and Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro software, he has set about establishing, on the internet, what amounts to the Footscray television station. But, because it streams on the internet, Footscray is open to the world.

The biggest problem now is bandwidth, Dale says. ”The NBN is due to reach my house this year. That’s going to revolutionise things,” he says.

Dale started with a website called Digital Pill, part instructional, part showcase for local musicians. Now he is making his first episodic ”internet TV” show, Swampy’s World, which shows that a homeless man, because he is homeless with nothing to lose, has total freedom to say what he likes about the world. Melbourne actor-writer Ross Daniels wrote the script and plays Old Swampy. Dale shot and edited the footage and wrote the music. Phil Greenwood helped with the camera, Nichaud Fitzgibbon sang the songs and Dave Evans played accordion.

The point to note here is that, while Dale now uses several thousand dollars’ worth of equipment, the outlay is peanuts compared with a network’s costs. The internet allows bids for a place in this tsunami of opportunity with what these days counts as amateur or, at most, ”prosumer”, gear.

But video must be HD. To save money you could use iMovie instead of Final Cut and WavePad (from Australian software house NCH) rather than Logic. Everything’s there; anyone can go for it. YouTube is now the vast repository of videos ranging from magical to damnable. Dale’s productions from the beginning were broader and different – more soul, one thinks.

Swampy’s World and other productions to come go well beyond YouTube. But they all speak for and of talented people out there in the suburbs, in this case Melbourne but it could be anywhere, offered by people who strive and truly care.

Swampy’s World launched on February 28 at swampy.tv. Dale also runs well-established music site digitalpill.tv. More of his work and philosophy is at leodale上海夜网m.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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AFL charter is one change for the better

In the midst of the latest kerfuffle about a cap on interchanges, rule changes and the entire raison d’etre of the laws of the game committee, the AFL has come up with a nice piece of clear thinking.
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That is to establish a charter outlining the virtues of the game it wants to enshrine, the idea being that if we’re going to have a committee tinkering with the rules as much as this one has in recent times, shouldn’t there be a clear big picture towards which it is working?

It’s the brainchild of new laws of the game committee chairman Gillon McLachlan, who says the input will come from key stakeholders such as clubs, coaches, players and, significantly, supporters.

It’s a terrific idea, one that, had it been canvassed earlier, might have helped spare us some of the rule changes introduced for the purpose of counteracting the unintended consequences of previous rule changes, like a dog chasing its tail.

Exactly what is the type of game we want to be playing and watching at the elite level? Already, plenty of informed debate has been generated.

On SEN on Wednesday morning, former coaches and players such Terry Wallace, David King and Scott Lucas offered their suggestions for such a charter, the AFL a very interested listener.

King said a fundamental had to be no alteration to the scoring system, resisting any temptation for a NAB Cup-style ”supergoal” from long range.

Former Bomber forward Lucas was dismissive of some suggestions that the AFL revert from 18 to 16 players a side on the ground, as per the old days of the VFA.

He made a particularly cogent call to protect the players of all shapes and sizes, always a selling point of the game, but one perhaps now endangered on a couple of fronts.

One is the apparent determination by the laws people to stretch players even more in terms of endurance, the danger that the scales become tilted too heavily in favour of athletic gifts at the expense of football nous.

The other impact may already have been felt, Lucas making the valid point that the introduction of the substitute has rendered a second ruckman all but obsolete, that role now falling to a more mobile pinch-hitter.

Wallace said a key tenet had to be the preservation of the one-on-one contest, dramatically reduced by the greater licence taken by forwards and backs in the modern game, as well as not legislating fair physical contact out of existence.

We all have our particular hobby horses. Mine is umpires clearing congestion by calling for quicker ball-ups rather than waiting, hoping for the ball to come out on its own.

Another is that rules be trialled for at least two years in the NAB Cup for a more accurate indicator of their potential impact. That would also allow emerging trends in the game to be judged more accurately. Is a trend an entrenched blight on the game or merely a passing fad? Hard to tell if you don’t allow the rules to remain long enough for a decent sample size.

On the question of supporter input, McLachlan says ”we have a facility to quickly get feedback from 15,000 people”.

That might be the biggest test of the charter idea, too, because you know that even before such a survey, the overwhelming response from fans will still be: ”Leave the rules alone.” And after 50 rules changes in the past 20 years alone, that’s perfectly understandable.

What remain arguably the most profound changes to the AFL rules – the free kick for out-of-bounds on the full, the centre diamond becoming a square after two years, and the introduction of the interchange bench rather than reserves who couldn’t be replaced – came in 1969, 1973 and 1978 respectively.

Does that mean most of what has come since has been unnecessary tinkering around the edges? Or fine-tuning that has kept the modern game as watchable as it still is? At least now with a charter we might have a definitive guide to help us answer those sorts of philosophical questions.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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PM’s gangs plan hits three hurdles

Julia Gillard’s campaign to tackle criminal gangs is wobbling, with three state governments unhappy about her idea of national laws and a crime statistician saying she has exaggerated the gun problem in NSW.
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As part of her five-day campaign to win back Labor votes in western Sydney, the Prime Minister has talked tough on law and order.

On Sunday, she announced a $64 million ”national anti-gang taskforce”. Ms Gillard said: ”When we look at the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, we see that over the past 15 years, shootings in public places have soared.”

But the director of the bureau, Don Weatherburn, said Ms Gillard was wrong to claim that shootings had ”soared”. According to Dr Weatherburn, the number of non-fatal shooting offences in NSW peaked in 2001 and then began to fall.

Ms Gillard has pitched her new gang policies as the government’s way of reining in the violence on suburban streets and in particular in western Sydney, where Labor could lose more than 10 seats in the September election.

At a press conference in Punchbowl on Wednesday, Ms Gillard said she would ask the state premiers at next month’s Council of Australian Governments meeting to endorse new national laws that would give the federal government unprecedented powers to tackle organised crime.

”National laws will prevent members of organised criminal groups from easily shifting their operations to other states and territories,” she said.

The new national laws would include powers to seize ”unexplained wealth” from criminals, including cash, cars and houses.

Courts would be allowed to label a particular group as a ”criminal organisation” and then impose controls on the gang, such as banning members from visiting their clubhouse.

But for Ms Gillard’s plan to work she needs the states to agree to refer their powers to the Commonwealth. At least three appear unwilling.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said he thought national laws would ”risk disrupting the states’ work in tackling drug trafficking and other organised crime”.

The federal government failed last year to convince the states to accept national anti-gang laws.

”There is nothing in today’s announcement to suggest the Commonwealth has changed its position from the proposal already rejected,” Mr Clark said.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie accused Ms Gillard of trying to take revenue from the states and said he would not relinquish the Queensland government’s powers to confiscate unexplained wealth.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said his state would co-operate ”where the Commonwealth could play a role” but ”we’re not going to hand over powers”.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Coaching the coaches next priority

LOST, loose and lonely athletes weren’t the only recurring theme in the recently released probes of Australia’s dysfunctional Olympic swimming team. Highlighted several times in Doctor Pippa Grange’s Bluestone Review was a startling absence of leadership that pointed to major failings of national coaches.
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Among Doctor Grange’s recommendations was that Swimming Australia invest in an “intensive coach-the-coach leadership program” that would see the team’s big boss, Leigh Nugent, tutored by an “industry expert” for a minimum of three months.

The Australian Sports Commission also recognised the benefit of coaching coaches when it released its masterplan to rectify the nation’s deteriorating performance in international sport last November it. A priority outlined in the ‘Winning Edge’ blueprint was increased investment into coaches and high performance personnel, and the establishment of a very modern sounding “new cross-sport centre for performance coaching and leadership” designed to encourage information sharing across sports and raise the standard of those working in the industry.

Federal sport Minister Kate Lundy will announce on Thursday that the Australian Institute of Sport is ready for its first intake of coaches who are eager to be pupils again in order to become better teachers.

There are just 30 places – 15 for emerging coaches who will be trained over two years, and 15 for established high performance leaders from national sporting organisations who will be trained for a minimum of 12 months – for the program beginning in May that Senator Lundy is spruiking as “cutting edge”.

“A contemporary sports system is open to the ideas of coaches and high performance staff sharing knowledge,” Lundy said.

“There is no reason a cricket, football or netball coach or leader cannot learn valuable lessons from a swimming, rowing or athletics coach or vice versa.”

The successful candidates will be trained not only by the Melbourne Business School, but by the National Institute of Dramatic Art, and undertake programs the ASC says will be “thematic rather than discipline based, with content delivered via a series of face-to-face residential labs” and involve study tours and individual assessment.

Units for year one include ‘Maximising your Leadership Potential’ and ‘Strategic Thinking and Action’, to be run by the Melbourne Business School. The National Institute of Dramatic Art will run ‘Creating Excellent Communicators’ and ‘Communicating with Impact’ while other units, to be run by the AIS, will broach science (‘Maximising Altitude’), psychology (‘Mental Health First Aid’) and general wellbeing (‘Optimising Sleep for athletes and coaches’).

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Accept bans, Sharks told

Dark days: The investigation into Cronulla has focused on the 2011 season and the involvement of sports scientist Stephen Dank.Up to 14 Cronulla players left a meeting at Sharkies Leagues Club on Tuesday night with their careers in tatters after being told to accept a six-month suspension or risk further sanctions over the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
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A lawyer, hired by Cronulla to negotiate with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority following the investigation of the use of peptides, went to the meeting with documents already prepared for the players to sign, admitting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The players were told if they signed the documents they would not face further sanctions and would remain employed by the club. But if they did not sign, they would open themselves up to the possibility of longer suspensions.

The players refused to sign.

It is believed the same lawyer had previously told Cronulla players they had little to worry about, before dramatically changing tack this week after further talks with ASADA.

The investigation into Cronulla has focused on the 2011 season and the involvement of sports scientist Stephen Dank.

The players believe a former employee has blown the whistle on the use of supplements at the club.

The Australian Crime Commission and ASADA had come under pressure since the release of an unclassified document to name names. But the events of the past few days have brought the focus clearly on to Cronulla, leaving Sharks officials devastated.

But it is understood that eight players at other NRL clubs have been implicated in the latest ASADA investigations.

Fairfax Media was told the meeting on Tuesday night was the sixth attended by the Sharks players since the dramatic media conference in Canberra last month to announce the findings of an ACC report into doping and match fixing in sport.

No player is thought to have failed a drugs test.

It is believed that if players did admit to taking a banned substance, they would claim they did so unknowingly.

Fairfax Media has been told that Sharks players were given beta thymosin and CJC 1295 during the 2011 season. It has been suggested the substances were not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list at the time.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and football manager Darren Mooney did not return calls on Wednesday night.

A club spokesman denied reports players had been interviewed by ASADA on Wednesday.

Instead, the players trained as normal in preparation for Sunday night’s match against Gold Coast, but their futures are uncertain amid speculation that either ASADA or the club will stand them down on Friday.

A shopping centre appearance by players on Thursday night has been scrapped and an announcement of a new sleeve sponsor has been delayed.

The Sharks say they have already lost a sponsorship deal of up to $2 million for the naming rights of their stadium after they were one of six NRL clubs named in the ACC report.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Drug policy a concern: Dogs boss

Peter Gordon at the Western Bulldogs family day at Whitten Oval last month. Photo: Wayne TaylorWestern Bulldogs president Peter Gordon has highlighted concerns about the AFL’s illicit drugs policy, which had created a series of unfortunate issues for clubs and players, despite the AFL’s best intentions to deal with a society-wide problem.
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Gordon said the AFL had sought ”to cure an incurable problem” and the Bulldogs president also suggested he did not feel he had the right to act ”as moral policeman” to experienced players in terms of what they did in their own homes during the off-season.

”The policy is imperfect and has created a whole series of issues, including civil liberties issues, but also this cops and robbers mentality of which players might be caught next by an increasingly voracious media,” said Gordon.

Gordon said he found it difficult to stand in front of older experienced players – as distinct from kids just out of high school – and act as ”moral policeman”. ”What is my right to play moral policeman about what they do, in the sanctuary of their home, in the off-season?

”There is no moral right. There is a contractual right with the drug policy as an instrument of the AFL player contract and that was the only basis I felt I could say to them with a straight face ‘you will do this because you are contracted to do so’.”

The Bulldogs president said the media were ”only doing their job” in a massively competitive field, adding ”and this is the sexiest of stories – who will be the next player caught?”

Gordon made his comments in a forum at the Wheeler Centre on Tuesday night and subsequently expanded on and clarified them to Fairfax Media, calling the three-strikes policy – based on a medical model – ”the least worst solution”.

”The issue of prudent management of the illicit drugs issue is a complete nightmare,” he said at the Wheeler Centre forum.

”The idea that you stand before young players who you know are in the age demographic, asking if they know we’ve got anything … knowing that the chances of their fessing up, in any circumstances, is illusory.

”All this is from a club management point of view. The potential for this risk to eventuate is uncertain, it’s uncontrollable and potentially catastrophic.”

He said all clubs were at risk of losing sponsors and financial contributors to illicit drug scandals and if the Dogs lost sponsors ”we’re in serious financial trouble”.

”I certainly think that the AFL, in framing this policy, sought to cure an incurable problem.

”I think that they, no doubt, did start with the best of intentions to articulate a policy.”

Gordon later told Fairfax Media that, upon reflection, he did not think there was a better solution to the illicit drugs issue, than the three-strikes policy that the AFL devised.

Gordon also criticised the conflating of ”illicit drugs” with performance-enhancing drugs by the Australian Crime Commission, which had ”blackened” the AFL and its clubs’ reputations.

”It’s blackened the name of the competition.”

It’s done enormous reputational damage,” said Gordon, who is one of Australia’s best known litigators. He said all of the clubs and competition ”have been subject to enormous reputational damage … I think it’s been most regrettable.”

”Who knows what prospective opportunities have been lost because of the risks involved.”

In clarifying his Wheeler Centre remarks, Gordon added on the illicit drugs and ACC issues: ”It’s a massive problem in Australian society. There is a significant proportion of the young people who use drugs. I think it was very unhelpful for it [illicit drugs] to be conflated in the report with what are performance-enhancing drugs.”

He said the AFL, in devising the illicit drugs policy, ”did the best that they could with the responsibilities that they’ve got … I think what they came up with its the least worst policy”.

”I think the conflating of the issue of PED with illicit drugs is unfortunate.” He said illicit drugs were criminal, but performance-enhancing ones, in some but not all cases, were not illegal.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Argus: we can still be No.1

Former BHP chairman Don Argus, whose landmark review of Australian cricket charted a course back to world domination. Photo: Nic WalkerEXCLUSIVE
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Don Argus, whose landmark review of Australian cricket charted a course back to world domination, says there is no quick fix for the problems laid bare in India, and implored selectors and administrators to ”hold their steel”.

Although largely supportive of Cricket Australia’s efforts to implement many of the recommendations in the Argus review of team performance, tabled in response to the 2010-11 Ashes disaster, the former BHP Billiton chairman cautioned against panic, expressed concern about the lack of emphasis on spin bowling in the coaching structure, and warned the schedule of the Big Bash League must not detract from Australia’s Test objectives.

In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Argus said the report’s ultimate goal – to restore the Test team to No. 1 by 2015 – was ”absolutely” still achievable.

He said the harrowing results in India – defeats by eight wickets and an innings and 135 runs in the first two Tests – demonstrated how deep-seated Australia’s problems were to begin with.

”I think they have been quite bold in implementing a lot of the stuff and going down the recommendation path in the report,” Argus said. ”Everyone wants instant success … and the trouble when you go through a transition or succession phase is that impatience manifests itself into a bit of emotion.

”Up until this series, the guys have done pretty well in trying to unearth new talent and things like that. Everyone is going to have to hold their steel here to get the ultimate outcome, because if you start thrashing around in water then you drown, and up until now I think they’ve held it pretty well.

”I think India is probably the toughest environment of all to blood new talent and that’s what is happening over there.

”I’m not that despondent. I think it’s probably teaching the selectors a lot more about the strengths and weaknesses of the squad. I don’t think they could put together a better squad.

”They’ve tried a lot of people and you can add a few here and a few there, but they’ve gone about a process quite systematically that will

get us there in the end, but it was never going to be a short-term fix.”

Almost two years after the Argus report was released, its architect backed CA’s controversial injury management methods, and called on former players who criticised to ”give up their day jobs to offer their services to go and help”.

On selection, he said John Inverarity’s panel had, ”by and large”, adhered to his philosophy that dictated ”players must earn their positions in the time-honoured way of making runs, taking wickets and showing that they are ready to play at the next level”.

But he acknowledged the selection of Xavier Doherty for the second Test in India, after taking just two Sheffield Shield wickets at an average of 80 this season, was an exception.

”Selectors will sometimes make subjective judgments for whatever reason … I’m sure they can justify their selections. Up until probably that one [Doherty], they’ve stuck with what they’ve said they were going to do, and I think that has paid off for them,” Argus said.

”They’ve won in the West Indies, they’ve comprehensively won two series at home [against India and Sri Lanka, but also lost to No.1 team South Africa], and they go to the toughest environment in the world with an inexperienced side in those conditions, and it’s tough.”

Of the need to reduce the impact of the BBL on the Test summer, he said: ”If you deviate from your priorities, if you compromise on your plan … you’ll always get caught out. If Test cricket is the No.1 game, and we say it is, that’s the way it is.”

On coaching, Argus said there was scope for a dedicated spin coach on tour, a job currently performed by assistant coach and former wicketkeeper Steve Rixon. ”Whether they’ve got enough concentration on spin bowling is probably debatable … but if there’s a weakness, you’ve got to do something about helping to develop someone that can [address] that weakness.”

As Michael Clarke prepares to move up the order to paper over the batting woes, Argus said CA could only have prepared for the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey by resting star batsmen from the Test team, which would have provoked an even greater public outcry than rotating fast bowlers.

Argus said he had not given up on success in the Ashes this year and stands by the ambition of Australia returning to No.1 by 2015. ”I wouldn’t compromise on that at all. It’s like a five-year plan in a company – if you commit to something, you’ve got to get it, and all these players have committed to it.

”I don’t believe in blind faith. I believe in a lot of hard work, and it doesn’t come tomorrow. I think there’s a lot of effort going into getting this team to its goals. I’ve got great faith they will get to where they want to get to.

”Stay the course, but also recognise the challenges that are there. We tend to fall back into thinking we’ve still got this side with seven champions in it. Maybe that will come again, but that just doesn’t come overnight.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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