New rules target fan hooliganism

Horrified by the Bourke Street brawl between fans on December 28, the lighting of numerous flares at the AAMI Park match and the media outcry it sparked, Football Federation Australia has brought in new measures to tighten security for “active supporters” of Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory.
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Under the new rules, designed to more rigorously police the zones within the ground where the clubs’ most zealous fans gather, only club members will be entitled to purchase tickets into active-supporter areas.

“Each member will be entitled to purchase one ticket for their own use. The measures will apply to home-and-away matches,” the FFA said in a statement on Saturday.

The move is designed to prevent the sort of scenes that provoked embarrassing coverage on television and in the papers following the post-Christmas match between the two clubs.

Numerous charges were laid as a result of the incidents.

The game’s governing body is aware of the growing climate condemning street violence, particularly in Sydney, following the latest death from a so-called king hit in the city, and is fearful of further damage to the image of the sport.

The measures are being introduced for a trial period and will start after the round 18 games.

“Additional measures to ensure the safe conduct of A-League matches will be in place in accordance with the risk profile of the match, including increased bag checks,” the FFA said.

A-League boss Damien de Bohun said the trial measures had been put in place after tighter strictures were adopted for the Victory-Wanderers game, which took place at AAMI Park – a couple of weeks after the Bourke Street brawl – on January 14.

That passed almost without incident, although it was a midweek fixture, not one played during the Christmas holiday period.

“The measures worked smoothly and ensured the active-supporter areas were reserved for members who represented their clubs as genuine fans should,” de Bohun said.

“The trial is squarely aimed at preventing troublemakers using the active areas to engage in antisocial behaviour that affects the enjoyment of others and damages the reputation of the clubs and the game.

“FFA has worked closely with state police forces, security contractors and stadium managers on a range of security measures. We are all absolutely determined to make sure an A-League experience has a unique atmosphere in a family-friendly environment.”

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Thailand’s gathering storm

Chiang Mai residents attend a candle-light and lantern-floating vigil to urge non-violence in the lead-up to today’s election.They plan to call the uprising from a dingy 11th floor apartment above Chiang Mai, northern Thailand’s capital. ”Be prepared. When the time comes, I will call you out onto the streets,” radio host Mahawan Kawang exhorts his 50,000 listeners.
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”We must be ready to defend our Prime Minister and our country’s democracy,” he says.

Mahawan’s 105.50 FM is one of 2000 community radio stations across northern Thailand that have a pact to call out their millions of listeners if Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is toppled in what pro-government red shirt supporters claim is an unannounced coup under way 700 kilometres away in Bangkok.

”Don’t be afraid. In Bangkok they look down on people from the north and say we are uneducated, but we must show them that democracy is for everyone … our vote gives us the same rights as their vote,” says Mahawan, a popular celebrity with a master’s degree who is known as ”DJ Nok”.

A few kilometres away, former police senior sergeant Pichit Tamoon sips coffee outside the red-painted headquarters of the city’s red taxis and reveals plans for the mobilisation of 500,000 red shirt supporters who until now have largely remained quiet as anti-government protests have crippled Yingluck’s government and shut down parts of Bangkok ahead of Sunday’s national elections, which authorities fear could turn violent.

Pichit, the red shirt co-ordinator for 17 vote-rich provinces, paints a disturbing scenario that would see northern Thailand’s political separation from Bangkok and southern provinces and almost certainly stoke further violence in the country of 64 million people.

”We will not be the ones who will start the war, but if a coup happens, we will announce that we will fight,” Pichit says.

”Our groups have met and we have developed a plan to defend against an elite group that is bent on destroying our democratic system,” he says.

Under the plan, Chiang Mai, a former ancient capital among Thailand’s highest mountains, would become a base for red shirts who would come in en masse from 37 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, Pichit says.

Yingluck, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister, would evacuate to the city that is home for her powerful family, including brother Thaksin Shinawatra, the former billionaire prime minister living in exile who has been the target of an eight-year campaign to purge him from Thai politics.

From Chiang Mai, 46-year-old Yingluck would be encouraged to keep on governing as the legitimate rival to whoever takes over in Bangkok.

Under the plan, half of the mobilised red shirts would then descend on Bangkok to confront anti-government protesters, while the rest would mass in Chiang Mai.

”If we go to Bangkok, the protesters on the streets now will run away,” Pichit says.

”We can outnumber them 10 times. Most of them are middle-class people with money. They will not sacrifice what they have and will run to their homes for safety,” he says.

Asked if red shirts have weapons, Pichit, a 44-year-old father of two, says ”they are all prepared, but we cannot talk about it”.

In many countries it would be easy to dismiss such alarmist talk as propaganda designed to pressure political enemies.

When the Thai military launched a coup to depose Thaksin in 2006 there was a muted response from supporters in his political party that was then called Thai Rak Thai.

But long-simmering grievances have surfaced as Yingluck has been locked in a brutal struggle for her political survival.

As the latest episode of Thailand’s conflict has escalated into almost daily shootings and attacks in Bangkok, red shirt leaders have confirmed the holding of strategy meetings and plans to bring their supporters onto the streets if the government falls.

They are counting on the backing of the police, where Thaksin was a senior officer until 2001 and still has support among the ranks.

In 2010 red shirts occupied the centre of Bangkok for months before a bloody crackdown left at least 90 people dead and hundreds injured.

And militants in underground wings of the red shirt movement have been quoted in Thai media as saying they have stockpiled weapons and ammunition in Bangkok and surrounding areas, matching intelligence reports cited by the Thai military.

Pichit says red shirts have remained patient and low-key in the crisis so far ”because we don’t want to cause more problems for Yingluck”.

He says they believe unnamed powerful interests are orchestrating the fall of the government by either military intervention or judicial coup.

Thailand’s courts have been unusually active in recent weeks in taking on cases against Yingluck and members of her Pheu Thai party while the military, maintaining its neutrality for the moment, has staged 18 coups or attempted coups since the 1930s and shares the establishment’s loathing of Thaksin.

On the eve of Sunday’s election only candidates supporting the government and red shirts have campaigned in Chiang Mai, a city of 200,000 where the main opposition Democrat party, which is boycotting the polls, does not even have an office.

Yingluck is promising reform and compromise before calling another election in about a year.

With voters in her party’s rural bastions likely to turn out in force, victory seems certain but she will face a host of legal challenges as she tries to form a new government.

Attending a candle-light vigil held to urge election non-violence, Somchai Chanawan, 63, a former civil engineer who runs a coffee shop in Chiang Mai, says most people in northern Thailand want to defend the country’s democratic values but there are differing views on how to do it.

”I believe in using bare hands … that is, casting with my vote. I want my vote to have rights. How can they take away my right to vote?” he says, referring to threats by protesters to block people from going into polling stations on Sunday.

Even if polling goes ahead smoothly in most areas, protesters say they will continue their campaign aimed at destroying the Shinawatra family’s power at a time of deep concern over the health of 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the future royal transition in the country where the monarchy remains extremely influential.

While based in a luxurious mansion in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence over a 2006 corruption conviction, Thaksin – with a fortune estimated at $US1.7 billion – has bought and sold Manchester City football club, acted as an economics adviser to developing countries, operated mining ventures in Africa, launched a lottery in Uganda and met the late Nelson Mandala.

But he continues to wield huge influence in Thailand where his enemies demonise him but where he is adored as a hero by many, particularly those in rural areas such as north-eastern Isan, the country’s poorest region.

”I love Thaksin because he has brought many ideas that have helped us … he has good vision,” says Anong Jaichauy, a 56-year-old mother of two from a poor rice-farming family in Sampatong district, 30 kilometres south of Chiang Mai.

When he was prime minister, Thaksin, 64, implemented cheap healthcare, easy consumer credit and low-interest loans to 70,000 villages.

Yingluck went further when she was elected in 2011, introducing tax rebates for first-time car and house buyers, higher minimum wages and a costly rice subsidy scheme that government critics call ”Thaksonomics,” which they claim is a form of corruption.

Holding a photograph of herself with Thaksin, Anong says she is ready to lead villagers to Bangkok to defend Yingluck, sleeping on the footpath the same as she did during red shirt protests in 2010.

”Look around. We see all the trouble on the television every day and people no longer smile,” she says.

”People are upset. We cannot sit by and do nothing.”

Another of Thaksin’s initiatives was to grant licences for communities to have their own radio stations, which Mahawan, the radio host, describes as a ground-breaking way to empower disenfranchised and impoverished villages.

”When Thaksin was overthrown in 2006, my listeners were calling in incensed that a democratically elected leader could be treated that way,” says Mahawan, 47.

”They were also calling in to radio stations across north and north-eastern provinces and they became known as red stations which were reflecting the views of listeners,” he says.

Soon after the coup, soldiers raided Mahawan’s station, took away his equipment and kept him off air for two years. Other red stations were also closed.

But Mahawan says that this time the military will not be able to take him off air in the event of a military take-over or imposition of martial law that includes censorship.

”They wouldn’t dare. They know the feeling of people is now too strong … the people are saying on radio this is their last chance to stand up for our democratic rights, for the sake of our nation,” he says.

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Ballot for Gallipoli centenary draws 37,000 applications

Demand has overwhelmed organisers of the ballot for next year’s Gallipoli centenary commemorations.
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The ballot, which closed on Friday, attracted more than 37,000 applications from Australians and New Zealanders, for just 10,000 spots.

It is understood more than 30,000 Australians applied for 8000 spots, while more than 8100 New Zealanders applied for 2000 spots. Entrants will know by Anzac Day whether their application was successful.

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said final figures, including the average age of applicants and the breakdown of men and women, would be released soon.

Over the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign, 8709 Australians and 2721 New Zealanders were killed.

Monash University Australian studies historian Damien Williams, who has researched the motivations of Australians who retrace the steps of war veterans,said the motivations of those going to Gallipoli were different from those recreating the journeys of World War II.

Many people returned to Papua New Guinea and other World War II front lines to honour their family members, he said. But with most having no living family members linking them to Gallipoli, Dr Williams believed a collective Australian history was more a motivating factor.

This included the still-influential Peter Weir film, Gallipoli. And, he said, the role of government should not be underestimated; the extensive planning for next year’s centenary may have sparked many people to sign up for the ballot.

“It’s not always a simple and organic phenomenon; it’s something that governments and bureaucrats and decision makers actively influence.”

A Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman said it was the first time the government had had to run a ballot.

There will be 400 double passes available for direct descendants of Gallipoli veterans, 400 double passes for veterans of overseas service, 200 double passes for schoolchildren and their chaperones and 3000 double passes in the general ballot area.

The government has also invited 160 widows of WWI veterans to be included, with their fares to be paid by the government.

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Naomie Harris portrays truth with daring in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Power couple: Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Heart of the matter: Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, statesman.
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Playing real-life characters isn’t something that comes naturally to Naomie Harris. The British actress was familiar to fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean series well before James Bond came calling in his latest outing, Skyfall, and has seemed more focused on the fantastical, or at least the fictional. But with her latest role, she is suddenly playing one of the most divisive figures of the late 20th century. Harris is suitably fired up, on and off screen.

When we meet at the Dubai International Film Festival, Harris has just flown in from London and the British premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. During the screening, news came in of the former South African president’s death. The timing felt eerie. The night became an impromptu tribute of sorts to the man who helped eradicate apartheid from his troubled nation.

Harris, 37, calls it a numbing experience. But she points to the film’s earlier unveiling in Johannesburg as a true test of her abilities to read Winnie Mandela correctly, far from the headlines that famously demonised her.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Harris says. “All the Mandela family, the nieces and nephews, all turned out, as well as those who’d been imprisoned with him. It was a lot of pressure. These people were all there. There was complete silence when the movie was being shown. People were really affected. Winnie was crying. I had one of the Mandela nieces sob in my arms. It was intense.”

Harris met Winnie Mandela during pre-production of the film – and was told to “just tell the truth”. The London-born actor spent hours watching news footage, met those who knew the Mandelas, and read copious amounts (including Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, upon which the film is based) before she felt confident to portray the former first lady of South Africa. What she discovered surprised her.

“She was a huge part of keeping his memory alive while he was in prison for 27 years,” Harris says. “She was at the heart of the Free Nelson Mandela campaign. She was also, as we know, a huge part of the Soweto youth uprisings.”

Bypassing previous films about the Mandelas, she adds: “What was really difficult for Winnie was that she was so integral to these two movements: the free Nelson Mandela campaign, the anti- apartheid movement. When Nelson came out of prison, she was sidelined, and expected to go back to being almost the wife, to stand in Nelson Mandela’s shadow, when for so long she had been standing in her own light, and leading a movement in effect. I think that was really difficult for her.”

Harris dismisses the notion that Nelson Mandela, or his former wife (the pair divorced in 1996), were either saints or demons. Both achieved extraordinary things during a tumultuous period in their nation’s history. It took Harris six months to feel “released” from the character, something that “wasn’t pleasant”. Winnie and the family are said to approve of her exhaustive work on screen.

Her performance in the film, alongside fellow British actor Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, is testament to the hours she put in. Harris delivers an extraordinary performance, managing to navigate and articulate a radically shifting personality as Winnie ages from 21 to 57. Were the current awards race not so crowded, both she and Elba would surely have been in the running for Oscar attention.

Harris began acting on television, aged nine, in the British sci-fi series The Tomorrow People. Schooling and further education later kept her away. Then, in 2002, she was cast as an unknown in the zombie thriller 28 Days Later. She thanks its director for all that has come since.

“Danny Boyle is the reason why I’m here today. He gave me the very start of my career, with 28 Days Later, when I’d just left drama school, and didn’t really have any credits to my name. And he also cast me in Frankenstein, at the National [Theatre of Great Britain], which is how I got Bond, because [Skyfall director] Sam Mendes came to see it with Debbie McWilliams, who cast all the Bond movies. So I’ll always work with Danny, no matter what it is. Even,” she laughs, ”if I am playing a bimbo.”

Joking aside, Harris is very serious about her work – and clear about what she will and won’t do. Michael Mann wanted her to strip for a sex scene with co-star Jamie Foxx in 2005’s Miami Vice (she refused, she says, so Mann was forced to use a body double). Similarly, playing Moneypenny in the revitalised Bond franchise appealed because the lady who once fawned over Agent 007 had now been firmly recast as a thoroughly modern woman.

“[The producers] wanted to make her a modern character, someone that women and audiences can identify with and look up to,” she says. “That’s what I’ve always strived to do, in terms of my choices. I don’t have much freedom in terms of what roles I get offered. The freedom I have is in what I choose. I always choose strong women. Those are the women I was brought up with, that I admire and respect.”

Harris grew up in a single-parent family after her father walked out while she was a child. Her Jamaican-born mother went on to become a successful screenwriter (for BBC TV’s EastEnders), lending her daughter a work ethic far removed from the trappings of celebrity. The actress is currently in a steady relationship, although she won’t discuss the man concerned. But she seems genuinely happy. Which begs the inevitable question: what next?

“I’ve always wanted to do a period drama,” she says. “I wrote a dissertation while I was at university about black people in 18th-century Britain. And I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. So I’d love to be in a Jane Austen-esque film that reflects that period of time, when there were a lot of black people in Britain. After that, who knows?”

Six of the best: leaders on screen

Gandhi (1982)

Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic awoke a generation and garnered 11 Oscar nominations, winning eight, including best actor for Ben Kingsley, for his era-defining performance as the spiritual leader of British-ruled India.

Nixon (1995)

Oliver Stone’s dramatisation of notorious former US president Richard Nixon and his fall from grace wasn’t without its critics but delivered a superb lead turn from Anthony Hopkins, who inhabited the man in a way few others have done before or since.

Downfall (2004)

Almost a decade before the disastrous Diana, filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel delivered this tense WWII drama about the last 10 days of Adolf Hitler. Swiss actor Bruno Ganz inhabited the doomed fuehrer with an intensity so compelling it led to a spate of viral videos, lampooning one of his most brutal monologues.

The Queen (2006)

Philomena director Stephen Frears hit pay dirt with this glorious ode to Elizabeth II, as played by Dame Helen Mirren. Presenting a human side to the usually austere royal family helped soften her subjects’ often-bumpy relationship with their monarch. Mirren won the best actress Oscar for her efforts, dedicating her win to her Queen. A nation applauded.

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Kevin Macdonald’s engrossing look at one of the most bizarre figures of the past century provided a career-defining role for Forest Whitaker, who lent the figure of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin the enormity it required. Whitaker won the best actor Oscar.

Patton (1970)

Franklin J. Shaffner’s landmark biopic helped educate a nation about US General George S. Patton, the controversial World War II tank commander. Played with incomparable gusto by the great George C.Scott, the film – a game-changer for its no-holds-barred view of a man relieved of his war duties – is preserved in the US Library of Congress for historical importance.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is released in cinemas on Thursday.

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V8 Supercars field the smallest yet because of cost-cutting

With just one seat to be officially confirmed, the V8 Supercars field will be the smallest yet as even the top teams face a financial squeeze.
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Two entries have dropped out and another is doubtful, reducing the car count to 25.

Of the confirmed entries, only backmarker team Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport hasn’t nominated a driver for its reduced one-car effort.

In a reversal of his planned retirement from full-time racing at the end of last year, V8 veteran Russell Ingall is expected to sign with LDM for at least one more season.

LDM is one of two competitors – along with Dean Fiore – who handed back entries to V8 Supercars because they couldn’t afford to run them. And fellow owner/driver Tony D’Alberto is scrambling to find funding for his solo entry.

D’Alberto has until the mandatory pre-season test day at Sydney Motorsport Park on February 15 to confirm his participation in the 14-event V8 Supercars championship or also relinquish his entry.

This V8 season, which starts with the March 1-2 Adelaide 500, will be the first in recent years in which there hasn’t been a full field of 28.

Even if 26 turn up, it will still be the smallest line-up since V8 Supercars took over the running of what was formerly the Australian touring car championship in 1997.

The field was purposely reduced by V8 authorities from a high of 32 cars in the late ’90s to 28 to increase the value of each entry, which is known as a Racing Entitlement Contract.

A REC is required for each car entered by an owner and REC holders are entitled to a share of V8 racing’s end-of-year profits.

But because of the V8s’ poor two-year interim TV rights deal, there was no payout last year and this year is also likely to see the teams get little or nothing.

Along with a tough sponsorship market, the lack of a dividend – which was as much as $800,000 a year until the teams reduced their shareholding in the sport from 70 to 35 per cent in 2011 – has put most teams under financial pressure.

Melbourne’s D’Alberto is making a last-ditch effort to find funding to take his entry to another team, with reports he is looking to partner with retired Sydney driver Jonathon Webb’s Tekno Autosports squad, which was also forced to cut back to one car for NZ star Shane Van Gisbergen.

Even champion team Triple Eight is in need of a bigger budget, selling the bonnet space on its Red Bull-backed Holden Commodores to upgraded minor sponsor Caltex.

Triple Eight’s main rival, Ford Performance Racing, has taken a hit to its budget despite winning the Bathurst 1000, losing major sponsors on top of reduced factory backing.

Erebus Motorsport, mainly privately funded by wealthy owner Betty Klimenko, is looking for replacement sponsors for both its Mercedes-Benz AMGs (down from three cars last year).

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