Ford fans will follow drivers: V8 boss

Ford drivers may lose their factory backing but they can still expect plenty of fan support, V8 Supercars boss James Warburton says.

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There were fears of a fan backlash after Ford confirmed they would not support the category from 2016 just days before the season finale in Sydney.

While saddened by the news, Warburton believed Ford fans would simply follow drivers in the wake of the manufacturer’s withdrawal.

He said leading Ford driver Mark Winterbottom – who sits second in the championship standings – was a classic example of someone Blue Oval fans would support regardless of the car he drove.

“You’ve got to remember the drivers, they are the stars – they’ve got big personalities,” he told Fox Sports.

“Mark Winterbottom has an enormous amount of fans.

“People love Frosty.

“So what will he drive in the future? I imagine the fans would go with that.”

The writing was on the wall for Ford’s withdrawal after the manufacturer revealed plans in 2013 to close its Australian plants by October 2016 and cease production of its Falcon.

Still, Blue Oval fans vented their spleen on social media once the news became official on Monday.

Ford Performance Racing (FPR) is the only factory-backed team while the manufacturer also assists Dick Johnson Racing (DJR) on a parts supply agreement.

Six Ford Falcons will contest the 2015 season – FPR’s four entries plus single vehicles from Super Black Racing and DJR Team Penske featuring two-time series champion Marcos Ambrose.

“It would be nice to know if it was about how we performed on track but unfortunately it is a business decision away from the track that has made them head down this route,” CEO of FPR – winner of the last two Bathurst 1000 races – Tim Edwards said.

It is believed Ford’s financial support will be so minimal next year that FPR may revert back to their legal name – Prodrive Racing Australia.

“The motoring industry is going through a pretty traumatic time, and you have to move with the times,” Warburton said.

“Ford’s market share is not great. It’s the lowest sales year they have ever had on record.

“I don’t think this will help their sales. It certainly won’t from the V8 Supercars’ point of view.”

V8 Supercars hope to soon reveal new rules for the 2017 season that they hope will encourage support from other manufacturers, potentially opening up the category to two-door cars and engines other than V8s.

“There are two or three in particular we would encourage to come into the sport and that’s where our focus has got to be,” Warburton said.

HK protest founders urge retreat

The three original founders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy movement have tearfully announced they would “surrender” by turning themselves in to police and urged protesters still on the streets to retreat.

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The announcement came on Tuesday after hundreds of pro-democracy protesters clashed with police late on Sunday, leaving dozens injured in one of the worst nights of violence since rallies began over two months ago.

“As we prepare to surrender, we three urge the students to retreat – to put down deep roots in the community and transform the movement,” said Occupy Central leader Benny Tai.

Tai said the trio would surrender to police on Wednesday in a commitment to the rule of law and “the principle of peace and love”.

“Surrendering is not an act of cowardice, it is the courage to act on a promise. To surrender is not to fail, it is a silent denunciation of a heartless government,” Tai said.

He praised the bravery of frontline occupiers and criticised the police as “out of control”, saying it was time for protesters to leave “this dangerous place”.

Academics Tai and Chan Kin-man, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming founded the Occupy Central civil disobedience group in early 2013 to push for political reforms, but have increasingly taken a back seat as more radical student groups came to the fore.

It was not immediately clear how they would respond to Tai’s appeal.

Teenage poster-child of the movement Joshua Wong and two other student leaders went on hunger strike late on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to force the government’s hand.

“Our young people have used their bodies to withstand the blows of police batons, their blood and broken bones have brought us the deepest sorrow,” Tai said.

“We respect the students’ and citizens’ determination to fight for democracy, and we are furious at the government’s heartless indifference.”

While there is no specific warrant out for the founders’ arrest, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have consistently slammed the protests as illegal.

Tai said he did not know how police would respond to their surrender, but the three were prepared for any consequences.

He said the Occupy movement would now take a different direction to promote the civil disobedience movement, including through education and a new social charter.

Student-led demonstrators are demanding free leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Their main protest camp blocks a long stretch of a multi-lane highway in Admiralty district in central Hong Kong.

China’s communist authorities insist that candidates for the 2017 vote must be vetted by a loyalist committee, which the protesters say will ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.

“We are hoping that after the hunger strike we have a chance to speak with government officials openly – then there will be a chance to solve this Hong Kong problem,” 18-year-old Wong told reporters.

The city’s embattled leader Leung Chun-ying – whose resignation is demanded by protesters – urged the students on Tuesday to look after themselves.

“I hope the students that are participating in the hunger strike can take care of their health, especially when the weather is getting colder,” he told reporters

Talks between demonstrators and the Hong Kong government in October ended in an impasse, with protest leaders saying authorities had little to offer.

Three student leaders were denied permission to board a flight to Beijing last month where they hoped to bring their demands for free elections to Chinese authorities.

Violent clashes broke out Sunday night in a fresh escalation of tensions, with officers firing pepper spray at angry students trying to surround government headquarters.

A court has approved an injunction to clear part of the Admiralty site, but an appeal against it was being heard Tuesday.

“At this point, we won’t decide on whether to retreat or not,” Wong said on Tuesday.

Twitter to make it easier to report abuse

Twitter is trying to make it easier for victims and witnesses to report online harassment.

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The short messaging service says new tools will roll out to users over the coming weeks. They are available now for a small group of Twitter’s 284 million members.

Among changes, the updates streamline the process for reporting abuse, especially on mobile devices.

Twitter says it also made “behind-the-scenes improvements” that speed up response times to reported tweets and accounts.

Recently, an online campaign dubbed GamerGate has led to the harassment of women in the video game industry for criticising the lack of diversity and how women are portrayed in gaming.

“We are nowhere near being done making changes in this area,” wrote Shreyas Doshi, director of product management and user safety, in a blog post.

“In the coming months, you can expect to see additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts.”

That said, it is unlikely that the improvements will put an end to harassment on Twitter.

While users can block accounts, and Twitter can delete them, there is nothing stopping bullies from setting up new accounts under different names.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly three-quarters of American adults who use the internet have witnessed online harassment.

Forty per cent have experienced it themselves.

The types of harassment ranged from name-calling to physical threats, sexual harassment and stalking.

Half of those who were harassed said they didn’t know the person who had most recently attacked them.

Hughes family bracing for tough day

Phillip Hughes’ manager says his family are bracing for a tough day.

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The young cricketer will be farewelled in his home town of Macksville, on the NSW mid-north coast, on Wednesday at a funeral to be attended by thousands of people, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“Today is going to be a really tough day for the family, there is no doubt about that,” James Henderson told the Nine Network.

“The cricket community … will put their arms around the family and help them through.”

Mr Henderson said Hughes was a “no fuss sort of guy”.

However, the level of public warmth toward him said a lot about the person he was.

“For the family and the extended family and the community here in Macksville and the cricket community who did know him, he was a special, special person,” Mr Henderson said.

Organisers had kept about 80 per cent of the seats at the funeral open for Macksville residents.

The small town is expected to shut down for the service starting at 2pm at the Macksville Recreation Centre, which is expected to cram in 700 people.

Thousands are expected to pay tribute to the 25-year-old batsman by watching the funeral from overflow areas at a nearby sports field.

Hughes died last week, aged 25, after being hit in the head by a bouncer in a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney.

While the focus will be on Macksville, the funeral will be broadcast to the public at the SCG, Melbourne’s Federation Square, the Gabba and Brisbane’s Southbank, the WACA, the Adelaide Oval and Bellerive Oval and on national television networks.

“There is not one Australian today who can’t join the family here in Macksville,” Mr Henderson said.

Concordia skipper admits showing off

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino has told a court that he was showing off when he steered the cruise ship onto rocks off the Italian island of Giglio.

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But he denied that the person he was most trying to impress was a blonde Moldovan dancer nearly 20 years his junior who was with him on the bridge at the time of the January 2012 disaster, which left 32 passengers and crew dead.

Testifying on Tuesday for the first time in his trial for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship, Schettino presented himself as a captain who had been badly briefed by his crew about the disastrous route the 115,000-tonne vessel was fixed on when he returned to the bridge after dinner.

On the sidelines of the hearing, prosecutor Francesco Verusio revealed he was planning to request a 20-year prison term for the captain.

Schettino, 54, told the court that it was normal “commercial” practice to navigate close to the coast to impress passengers.

On this occasion, he also wanted to “salute” a retired colleague living on Giglio and the ship’s head waiter, who came from the island.

“I was trying to catch three pigeons with one bean,” Schettino, said, using an Italian expression that translates as “killing three birds with one stone”.

The captain denied taking a reckless risk to impress Domnica Cemortan, with whom he had just dined.

An employee of Costa, the Moldovan dancer was on the ship as an unauthorised passenger.

Schettino’s reputation as “Captain Coward” is largely based on his conduct after the crash.

Only 29 minutes after he had given the order to passengers and crew to evacuate, Schettino himself left the vessel with hundreds of those onboard still unaccounted for.

Online spending hits a record $16b

Australians spent a record $16 billion shopping online in the past year, with the weaker dollar ensuring more of that money stays in our own backyard.

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Online retail sales rose 11.9 per cent in the year to October, figures from National Australia Bank on Wednesday show.

Most of that increase came from domestic online sales, courtesy of the lower Australian dollar, which has fallen 10 US cents since early September.

Domestic online sales lifted 14.4 per cent while international sales only rose 4.7 per cent.

In October, domestic retailers attracted more than 75 per cent of total online spending.

“There’s a strong correlation between currency movement and our country’s appetite for international retail wares,” NAB head of consumer sectors Peter King said.

“The depreciation of the Aussie dollar since December 2013 has ushered in a strong domestic bias as international prices have escalated.

“And it’s hard to imagine this trend changing any time soon based on market sentiment towards the currency.”

The figures showed that Canberrans, on a per capita basis, were the most dedicated online shoppers, followed by the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

“Why does this matter? Because it’s these kinds of data that can help retailers target their growth strategies,” Mr King said.

“Our October data confirm what we anticipated last quarter – that online sales will keep growing at a faster pace than traditional retail.”

In the year to October, Australians spent an estimated $16.2 billion on online retail, which is worth about 6.8 per cent of the $237 billion spent in traditional bricks and mortar stores in the year to September, the report said.

Official retail trade figures will be released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday and are expected to show a 0.1 per cent lift in spending in October.

A BREAKDOWN OF HOW WE SHOP ONLINE

* Department and variety stores – 34 pct

* Homewares and appliances – 17 pct

* Groceries and liquor – 15 pct

* Media – 12 pct

* Fashion – 11 pct

* Personal and recreational goods – 6 pct

* Daily deals – 3 pct

* Electronic games and toys – 2 pct

Source: NAB

Blatter hopes to kick cricket in Sri Lanka

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has vowed to make soccer Sri Lanka’s most popular game by overtaking cricket in line with an emerging trend in the giant neighbour India.

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The visiting world football chief told reporters in Colombo that he saw no reason why football could not be the number one game in Sri Lanka, where the national cricket players are treated as demigods.

“Football is a more inclusive sport, relatively cheaper to play, and does not take a long duration,” he said on Tuesday.

“I urge all of you to take to football and look forward to the day when Sri Lanka competes internationally.”

He said football was increasingly becoming more popular in neighbouring India where FIFA will hold the under-17 world cup in 2017 with the participation of 24 teams playing 52 matches.

“(India) just started a professional league with former players, good players, but the right promotion will come in 2017,” Blatter said.

“It will be the first boom in a big cricket country.”

Blatter said he was keen to help Sri Lanka improve the game and make the sport the most popular in the island of 20 million people.

“I am not satisfied with the development of the (football) game,” he said adding that the local governing body of the sport needed to put in more effort to attract young players.

Blatter held talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse during his brief one-day visit and discussed the improvements necessary.

“The President requested assistance from FIFA to bring down internationally-acclaimed players to Sri Lanka and to help Sri Lankan players obtain experience abroad,” President Rajapakse’s office said in a statement.

Officials said FIFA had spent over $US11.5 million ($A12.44 million) on improving football in the island in recent years.

NFL’s Ray Rice seeks second chance

Former National Football League star Ray Rice says he wants a second chance with a club that will look beyond a video of him knocking out his future wife.

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Rice spoke with NBC’s Today show after winning his appeal on Friday of an indefinite suspension, a reinstatement that makes him eligible to be signed by any team.

With one week remaining in the regular season and numerous teams fighting for a playoff spot, Rice could draw interest from several clubs despite the video made public by TMZ in September that showed him knocking his now-wife Janay unconscious during a February incident at a casino elevator in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Rice, who helped Baltimore win the Super Bowl last year but was released by the Ravens in the wake of the controversy, said the club which would bring him back to the NFL would have to accept that he had “one bad night”.

“I think they would have to be willing to look deeper into who I am and realise that me and my wife had one bad night and I took full responsibility for it,” Rice said on Tuesday.

Rice was originally handed a two-game suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the incident, one criticised at the time as too lenient.

But once the video was made public, that ban was turned into an indefinite suspension by the league, a second punishment for the same violation that was ruled improper last week on appeal.

“One thing about my punishment and everything going along with anything that happened is that I have accepted it,” Rice said.

“I went fully forward with it. I never complained. I never did anything like that. I took full responsibility for everything that I did.

“And only thing I can hope for and wish for is a second chance.”

Nadal confident of Aus Open fitness

Rafael Nadal is optimistic about his chances of being ready for next month’s Australian Open – but admits he will start the 2015 season “from almost zero”.

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Nadal returned to training this week following surgery and acknowledges that he is starting from the back foot, and expects his main rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to continue their recent fine form.

The 28-year-old missed the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London last month to undergo surgery to remove his appendix.

The 14-time grand slam champion, who has also battled knee, wrist and back problems, is now on the comeback trail and, after returning to training on Monday, is already casting his eye towards a return to competitive action.

Nadal is looking at the events in Abu Dhabi and Doha at the start of 2015 as a chance to step up his recovery ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on January 19.

“It’s always a bit tough starting off after a few difficult months, without any continuity, and after the last month and half without being able to play any sport and the appendicitis,” he told Spanish newspaper AS.

“What I have to do this month is to get myself fit physically, progress my tennis as much as possible and lay the foundations to start well in Abu Dhabi and in Doha.

“(Then) take advantage of those tournaments to recover the competitiveness that I’ve not had for months due to the injuries.”

Nadal’s only Australian Open triumph so far came back in 2009, but he was runner-up to Djokovic in 2012 and reached the final again earlier this year only to lose to Stan Wawrinka.

When asked about the possibility of him being fully fit for Melbourne Park in six weeks’ time, Nadal said: “If you train well and you feel right physically, the process is much quicker.

“In a few days you pick up the speed of the ball again, the movement in the legs and, if I do good work at home and I play well at the start of the year, that could be enough to arrive in Australia well prepared.”

Nadal refused to look too far ahead, though, and admitted he does not know if he will be able to continue his record run that has seen him win at least one grand slam title every year for the last decade.

He said “Nobody has managed to go 10 successive years winning a grand slam, it’s a lot. I don’t know if I will be able to…but neither am I thinking about it.”

Should learning a second language be compulsory in Australian schools?

Sydney teenager Ludia Kim is struggling to learn French.

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But it’s not her ability to learn that鈥檚 holding her back, it’s her age.

French is Ludia鈥檚 fourth language. The other three 鈥?Korean, English and German 鈥?she started at preschool.

“English and German were compulsory,” she says. “So from such a young age, I had these two languages with me and I鈥檓 really fluent now. Whereas with French, which I started in high school, I struggle to be fluent.”

She supports compulsory language studies because she says it’s much easier to pick up a second language when you’re a child.

The government last month announced a new trial that will give children in 40 preschools around the country the same early start that Ludia had.

Under the $9.8 million trial, children will be taught one of five languages 鈥?nbsp;Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian, Arabic or French 鈥?nbsp;using games and interactive apps.

The trial is part of a wider push by the government to promote languages in schools, after it was found that the number of Year 12 students studying a second language had dropped from 40 per cent in the 1960s to only 12 per cent today.

But does the government action go far enough?

Advocates such as Kathleen Kirby of the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) say no. Australian students, Kirby says, are falling behind the rest of the world in their knowledge of languages, and learning a second language should be compulsory for all Australian students.

Plummeting rates 

Victoria is the only state committed to compulsory language education, with a goal of having compulsory languages learning for all students in government schools, prep to Year 10, by 2025.

While most other states have compulsory languages at specific year levels, none have them after Year 8, meaning most students give up studying early.

In Western Australia, more than a quarter of the state鈥檚 public primary schools don’t offer foreign languages, even though all of them did four years ago. 

Ms Kirby says the numbers are concerning.

“Less than 13 per cent of our students who are choosing to study a language right up to Year 12,” she says.

“That’s a very low percentage compared to many other economically developed countries where the majority of students are exiting schooling with two, or even three, languages.”

Listen to the full interview with Kathleen Kirby:

A 2009 report by the Australian Council for Educational Research said governments were responsible.

“Australia has an impressive record of policy development and program innovation in second language education, but a relatively poor record for consistency of application and maintenance of effort,” the report said.

“A large number of reports, enquiries, official policies and implementation programs is testimony to a lively concern for improvement, unfortunately undermined by lack of consensus about priorities and failure to devise an enduring rationale for what is ultimately needed: high standard, articulated, compulsory language education.”

It also noted that English-speaking countries like Australia  were typically the worst offenders.

“The countries in which compulsory language learning is least well established are English-speaking countries in which only one language is used for official purposes. It is also in these countries that concern for participation in language learning is most commonly expressed.”


At a glance: Language studies around the world

United States: Language studies are compulsory in 40 states for at least two years at secondary level. England: Language studies are compulsory for students from 7-14 years.Scotland: Language studies are compulsory in the last two years of primary and first four of secondary. France: Study of at least one foreign language is compulsary at secondary for three hours per week.Japan: Language studies are compulsory at both junior and senior high school.China and the Republic of Korea: Learning English is compulsory at primary and secondary levels.

(Source: Asia Education Foundation, University of Melbourne)


What languages should we invest in?

There are six languages predominantly taught in Australian schools, with Japanese the most popular, followed by Italian, Indonesian, French, German and Mandarin. 

The glaring omission is any Indigenous Aboriginal language, of which there are hundreds.

Neil Broad, of the Australian Society for Indigenous languages (AUSL), says more emphasis should be placed on teaching Indigenous languages. 

“My experience is that teaching an Australian indigenous language in an English-speaking school gives students a greater appreciation not simply of the language itself but also of the culture and of the people who speak that language.”

He says the sheer number of languages posed some difficulty, but that could partly be solved by geography.

“If you鈥檙e geographically located in an area where the language is spoken then that鈥檚 an easy choice to make but if you鈥檙e talking about a language program in Sydney then that’s a different kind of question.”

He says governments have a dual responsibility to encourage Indigenous language learning in non-Indigenous communities and to allow children whose first language is an Indigenous one to learn in it.

“I am deeply disappointed in the Northern Territory government’s approach to the use of Indigenous languages in schools,” he says.

“You’ve got a large number of schools and Aboriginal communities where kids turn up to first day of school with very little English, and there’s overwhelming evidence from around the world that people learn best if they are taught in the language they speak as their natural language.”

What’s the point?

Many people learn a language as a child only to forget it as an adult, so is there point in putting emphasis on boosting language studies only for students to forget it all down the track?

Kathleen Kirby argues the benefits of language studies go beyond being able to speak another language.

“Young people who have the opportunity to learn languages will not only be able to communicate better with people across the world, they have deeper inter cultural understanding and cultural intelligence,” she said.

Research from the Victorian government also suggests that learning another language helps boost children’s literacy skills and comprehension of English.

Neil Broad argues that a motivation for Australians should be around understanding the country’s history and preserving Indigenous languages, many of which are dying out.

“Language is not simply about earning about grammar and vocabulary and a sound system, it鈥檚 also about gaining an appreciation for the cultural context in which that language is spoken and where it belongs,” he says.

Starting young

Seventeen-year-old Ludia Kim, who has attended the German International School Sydney since prep, says she supports the idea of compulsory language learning in schools.

“In our generation it鈥檚 important that everyone speaks at least one or two other languages because Australia is now such a multicultural country,” she says.

She says being in a situation where you can鈥檛 speak the language is an isolating experience.

“When I was in kindergarten I found it difficult to communicate with the people surrounding me,” she says.

“I wanted to talk to people but I was kind of left alone because I couldn鈥檛 speak English.”

One thing everyone agrees on is that it is much easier to learn a second language when you鈥榬e a child.

“Young people’s brains are absolutely wired for language learning and it鈥檚 a real advantage and an optimum time to start children learning a second language as young as preschool age,” Kathleen Kirby says.

“I think this is a real challenge for Australia.”

Data compiled by Jason Thomas.