Markets X-factor has a clear mission

Butting heads: Chi-X Australia’s chief Peter Fowler.In the early 1990s, Peter Fowler was living in Sydney and working for one of the biggest stock exchange ”clearing houses” in the world, the London Clearing House, controlled by six British banks.
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He had started off in the world of IT in London but moved here when LCH asked him, in the mid-1980s, to help them set up new markets for the business in Australia.

But a few years later, when the banks decided to pull out of the country to focus on Britain’s closer ties with Europe, it became his job to shut down parts of the business.

That’s when he decided he didn’t want to work for big banks any more. ”At the end of doing that, they asked me if I’d like to go back to the UK, but my family was well established here, so I declined the invite,” Fowler says. ”So I went out and started my own business.”

The business he started built the clearing system for equities the Australian Securities Exchange still uses.

Fast forward a few years, and Fowler is now the chief of Chi-X Australia, the first company to break the ASX’s monopoly on the domestic trading market. As we speak, he’s in the middle of a fantastic brawl over the future structure of the country’s trading market.

On one side sits the ASX, which is desperately trying to keep control of its monopoly settlement and clearing businesses.

(”Settlement” is the delivery of securities from one party to another. ”Clearing” refers to the process whereby trades are settled in accordance with market rules).

On the other side sits Chi-X, the upstart exchange that’s happy to rattle the cage. (Chi-X broke the ASX’s monopoly on share trading when it began operating late last year).

Encircling the fight, with shaking fists, are Australia’s other market participants: institutional funds, large trading desks, stockbrokers and shareholders, each with their little piece of flesh in the game.

One of the arguments at the centre of it all has to do with the ASX’s monopoly power.

”There is a fair amount of bad feeling in the market because of the high ASX charges,” Fowler says. ”The ASX makes a fantastic profit margin by normal commercial standards, and they can afford to do that because they’re running monopolies.”

It’s an unsettling time for the industry. The sharemarket has tracked sideways for several years as investors have increasingly shunned volatility to put more money into bonds and bank deposits.

There’s so little interest in the market, stockbrokers are losing their jobs, and small broking firms have begun to merge. Part of the problem is that volatility has declined to the point where there are too many stockbrokers trying to serve a dwindling pool of clients.

That was one of the reasons the ASX reported an annual profit decline last week. Its net income in the year to June 30 was $339.2 million, a decline of 3.7 per cent.

The chief executive of ASX, Elmer Funke Kupper, told shareholders market conditions had become progressively worse through the year as retail and institutional investors became more concerned about events in Europe and the US.

Three of ASX’s key business units – listings, cash market (equities trading), and information services – had recorded falls in revenue in the past 12 months.

Rumbling along behind it all, the Council of Financial Regulators has been considering whether the clearing and settlement structure for the Australian market is appropriate, and particularly whether the ASX’s clearing monopoly should be opened to competition.

At the moment, Chi-X operates only in the ”trade function”; it doesn’t run any post-trade services, such as clearing and settlement facilities.

But that means it has to pay $275,000 a year to the ASX for the right to use the ASX’s monopoly clearing service. And on top of that, every trade must pay a clearing and settlement fee.

Mr Fowler says he is keen to see ASX’s clearing service opened up to competition, because that would give Chi-X a choice about where it directed its clearing business.

”[But] there shouldn’t be competition in the settlement space,” he says. ”There should just be one settlement facility and it should not be run by a for-profit entity without having appropriate controls that deal with pricing, and fair and equitable access.”

”[And] if we had competition in clearing, with multiple clearer facilities, connecting to a single settlement facility, then we must have arrangements in place which ensure that all of those clearing facilities are treated equally. We can’t have the ASX favouring its clearing business while disadvantaging its competitors.”

But the ASX, for its part, has been warning regulators to think twice before opening up its clearing service to competition.

Just last week, Mr Kupper voiced concerns about the level of fragmentation in the Australian market, warning of the consequences of too much liquidity moving away from a single ”lit” market into off-exchange areas called dark pools.

He said if the ASX’s clearing and settlement services were opened up to competition, that would damage the market further.

Asked about Chi-X Australia’s performance since it began operating late last year, Fowler says the company has grown at a faster rate than some of its foreign peers.

He says it is doing better than its European, Canadian and Japanese peers had done at a similar stage.

But according to Deutsche Bank research, that’s not necessarily the case. The financial house published a report in May that compared the rates of growth of Chi-X’s global businesses after its first six months of trading in a new foreign market.

After six months of trading in London, Chi-X’s total share of market turnover was 8 per cent. In Canada and Germany, it was a bit over 6 per cent. But in Australia, it was just 1.7 per cent. And after nearly a year, it’s still only about 3 per cent.

Analysts say the growth in Chi-X’s market share in Australia has lagged the experience in other markets. But there are important reasons for that.

First, there’s less financial incentive for market participants to shift from the ASX to Chi-X because the difference in the fees they charge is much lower than in other markets. There’s also little difference in technology between the two.

And the fact that Australia doesn’t have competing clearing services is a big deal.

That goes some way to explaining why Chi-X is calling so loudly for Australia’s clearing services to be opened up to competition: if clearing services were competitive, thus reducing clearing fees, Chi-X would, in theory, attract more volume and more market share to its trading business.

And that would help Chi-X twice, by reducing its costs and by stripping revenue from its competitor, ASX.

”But the main benefit for Chi-X would be that it would help with their market share,” Kieren Chidgey, a Deutsche Bank analyst, says.

Fowler says it’s OK that Chi-X is not used as the benchmark index.

”In terms of the newspaper coverage of the equities market, it’s the ASX brand name that is commonly used. We won’t be able to change that default behaviour until our market share grows,” he said.

”In Europe, what is now called BATS Chi-X Europe trades over 30 per cent of the London Stock Exchange [LSE], but still people will talk about the ”LSE prices”.

”So the change to the mindset is going to be a very slow, gradual task. And that’s OK.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Bodices ripped for fun and profit

Australian author Stephanie Laurens at her home in Macedon.CHAPTER two of Stephanie Laurens’ latest worldwide bestseller The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae begins as the headstrong Angelica is bound and gagged in an 1830s London carriage, wrapped in a blanket, in transit to whereabouts unknown.
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The chapter heading and the first letter of the first word are in ornate Gothic font. The book’s embossed cover has an English rose in regency finery draped winsomely across a chaise lounge.

This book is Laurens’ 54th. She has sold around 20 million in total, many more than fellow Australians Matthew Reilly, Di Morrissey and Tom Keneally and around the same number as Australia’s purported ”biggest-selling author”, Bryce Courtenay.

Laurens, ”nearly 60”, lives with her husband, a scientist, in an extraordinary eco-mansion in the trees at Macedon near Melbourne. She was a cancer research scientist herself until 1989 when she began writing the books she liked to read.

Her best-known characters are the Cynster sisters. They have been in 20 of her books. Poor blanketed Angelica is the third and youngest and, so far, the unluckiest in love.

”This is the house the Cynsters’ built,” says Laurens, showing me around. ”My books give me a huge royalty stream that goes on and on and on.”

Angelica Cynster wriggles in the blanket as the carriage rattles over cobblestones. But ”… it eased not at all; her fiendish captor had tucked the ends in tight.” Yet as the story goes on, in what is very much a strict trope in romance genre fiction, her abductor is also her hero, the dashing Scottish earl himself, who has in two previous books organised the abduction of her sisters in a cunning plan to save his castle.

This time, however, to quote Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well. The pair fall in love amid scrapes and high jinks and skulduggery, have lots of hot sex (”… her inner dam broke …”) and get married.

The book was a No. 1 on the New York Times ”mass market” best-seller list this year. Laurens has also won a RITA, the award given annually by the Romance Writers of America Association. Last month, Laurens was the keynote speaker at that association’s conference in California. In one email to me, she described herself as the CEO of an entertainment component rather than a writer, but she writes a lot more than most who throw that description of themselves around.

”She’s exceptional,” says Karen-Maree Griffiths of publisher HarperCollins. Laurens does her books through Avon, which is the American equivalent of Mills and Boon and HarperCollins owns Avon. ”She is an absolute superstar writer all over the world,” she says.

The reason Laurens isn’t a household name in this country is that she doesn’t sell many books in Australia. She estimates her home country as 40th on a list headed by America, Spain and Germany. Also, there are no specialist genre fiction publishers here.

The books are cheaper than your average Miles Franklin award winner and not sold in stores such as Readings. Genre fiction includes crime and westerns.

Within the broad genre of romance there are dozens of arcane sub-genres, including paranormal (romance with ghosts and vampires and stuff), medical (doctors and nurses and, at a push, firemen), inspirational (chaste Christians) and Laurens’ field – Regency romance, all set between 1800 and 1830 among the European aristocracy. It was a time, she says, of new freedoms. For the first time women could marry for love rather than dynasty. Or not marry at all. With such choices came jeopardy.

Women are Laurens’ primary readers. ”They have exactly the same questions and decisions to make now,” she says.

Laurens heads a panel tomorrow at the Melbourne Writers Festival called A Fine Romance.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Why should you listen to this man?

Critic’s eye: writer/musician Sasha Frere-Jones.”I DON’T believe there’s any particular reason you should trust me, or two or three people like me,” says Sasha Frere-Jones. He’s the pop music critic for The New Yorker – one of several of the magazine’s staff who are here for sold-out sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival – but the last thing he wants to do is tell readers what they should be listening to.
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In the digital world, you can get musical recommendations, he says, from all sorts of places, ”and to be perfectly honest, I believe in the wisdom of the crowd” when it comes to that sort of thing.

Instead, he believes that ”critics are reporters. Our taste is not that important to the average reader: they just want to know what the thing is, and how does it work, and what the f— is going on. My tastes are in there, but that’s not the point. People talk about writing from passion, and that’s definitely part of what I do, but to me, it’s not an interesting assignment.

”It is really about trying to figure out what a piece of work is doing.” And good prose is vital.

Frere-Jones, 45, has been on staff since 2004, after writing for Slate, Village Voice, Spin and the New York Post. He’s perfectly ready to own up to his ”biases as a listener, which I try not to bring too much to the table, but they are in there”, and he’s quick to acknowledge the music that first inspired him. He’s a child of 1980s post-punk and hip-hop, of seeing hardcore band the Bad Brains perform with the impact of ”a nuclear reactor” and of being gobsmacked and then entranced by the minimalist ”drum machine and yelling” of Run DMC’s track Sucker MCs. This has left him, he says, impatient with music that’s ”polite”, of live performances that hold back too much. His injunction: ”Don’t be winning. Transform me. You can do it quietly – but put me through something.” For The New Yorker, writing about pop music, his reach is wide-ranging, eclectic. Across his contributions – 1500-word features, a critic’s notebook, live reviews and blog posts – he can cover anything from the Cuban conga player Pedrito Martinez to American black metal, to boy-band One Direction to M.I.A. ”I like the challenge of general interest writing,” he says. The New Yorker might have a sophisticated reputation, but ”the whole magazine has an incredibly simple premise. If you don’t know about fermentation or weightlifting or the Sudan, it will be explained to you.” This is not in any way simplifying or reductive – and for a writer, ”making yourself figure it out from square one” can be an energising, clarifying discipline. That’s when things start coming to you. There are thoughts you don’t get, he says, any other way.

He’s working on a book that grew out of a much-discussed 2007 essay about the relationship, or lack of it, between recent indie music and R&B – a piece that he says had a more judgmental tone than he had intended, indeed was trying to avoid. The book has since morphed into a memoir that’s also about criticism.

He has a story to file while he is here in Melbourne, a piece on the idiosyncratic Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, whom he has written about before. This time, he says, he thinks he’s going to bring her into the story more. ”She writes simple elemental music, but she’s such a funny, wildly entertaining person to be around, so completely not the sort of dark depressing person you would imagine.” And if he can give a greater sense of her, he says, ”it only makes you like or understand the music more, knowing how this polymath autodidact mind is flying off in all these directions.

”She knows so much stuff, and she writes these incredibly simple songs.”

Frere-Jones was a performer when got his start in music writing, and he is still making music. He is now with Calvinist, a collaboration that includes Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells. There will be an album, he says, and what’s more, ”actually a record that people might buy”.

”And that’s strange for me – making music that people might hear is kind of a weird proposition.”

Calvinist: http://soundcloud南京夜网/dfa-records/yo-yo-the-calvinist-unsaved

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Fifty shades of success

“People say it isn’t good quality but you have to remember Fifty Shades started as fan fiction and as fan fiction you have to have action” … publisher Amanda Hayward.There was a time, not so long ago, that Amanda Hayward was close to quitting publishing. Selling the e-book and print rights of Fifty Shades of Grey to Random House for more than $1 million had made the founder of The Writer’s Coffee Shop and the book’s author wealthy women, and here the big publishing houses were waving dollars at Hayward again, offering to buy her out.
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Caught in the blinding arc lights of a publishing phenomenon, Hayward was spent. The publicity was intrusive and bruising, the fun of the original enterprise curdled by lawyers and confidentiality agreements.

Sitting on a panel at the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival in July, Hayward was representative of the new force of social media and niche publishing. The passion of that audience of book lovers reminded her that the real purpose of publishing was to tell stories, a dawning that rekindled her flagging enthusiasm.

Hayward’s eyes flash steel and mischief when she tells me rival publishers have since been trying to poach her authors. ”You have to laugh,” she scoffs, ”because it’s not going to work. It’s not the way to do it, it’s not the way it works, but they will learn. It’s now, ‘what’s the next thing?’, it doesn’t have to be some book, it’s what else captures people’s imagination.”

Three different authors in her stable are tracking the same early popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey in the fan fiction and original fiction community of her online forums. ”Same volumes,” nods Hayward. ”It will take another four or five months from here to know.” If, that is, she can boast a second bestseller.

With no experience to her name, the one-time quantity surveyor outwitted New York’s publishing houses to bring the fan fiction story in from the sidelines to mainstream publishing. With global English-language sales approaching 40 million, the erotic trilogy has outsold Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the seven Harry Potter books across several continents including Australia. Hayward wants to prove lightning can strike twice. And, next time, there’s no way she’s going to sell to any of the big publishing houses. She wants to do it all herself. ”Just once more would be lovely,” she says, ”not to be known as a one-hit wonder.”

Our lunch venue, Crinitis at Castle Hill, is all masculine leather and polished wood, a restaurant in which Christian Grey, Fifty Shades of Grey’s tycoon dominator, might have felt comfortable. ”But it doesn’t have a red playroom,” Hayward smirks, referring to the Red Room of Pain in Grey’s penthouse suite where he beds his willing sexual slaves.

Hayward discovered the restaurant three months ago and has wined and dined some of ”the girls” responsible for moderating the publishing house’s 100,000-member fan fiction community, from which the publishing arm nurtures emerging authors. Until Fifty Shades came along, they were middle-aged housewives, with kids and husbands and tedious jobs they hated who led online lives as writers or reviewers of risque stories set in their favourite fictional universes.

Hayward, 36, a mother of two daughters, was a writer of Harry Potter and Twilight fan fiction.

”You don’t want to know what I do to the characters,” she chortles when I ask. ”Some of the things that happen, it’s hilarious, it is laughable, it’s entertainment and it’s something that lets you take those stories you love and continue them and not have to leave them.” Which is the very point of fan fiction.

Stripped of its fantasies, sex toys, floggers and blindfolds, Fifty Shades is a conventional love story with a steamy twist. It follows the relationship of a naive young woman and her tycoon boyfriend who demands her submission as his sex slave. Grey is damaged and mercurial – ”Fifty Shades of F—ed Up”, whence the title comes – who has seduced many women. The romantic tension of the trilogy lies in whether he can ever give Anastasia his heart.

”People say it isn’t good quality but you have to remember Fifty Shades started as fan fiction and as fan fiction you have to have action,” Hayward says. ”You have to have a sex scene in every chapter because that’s how you get your reviews. The amount of people who review per chapter shows popularity, that’s how your ratings get up. In fan fiction every chapter has to give you something to keep you reading it.”

This accounts for the frequent coupling and Anastasia’s vacillation. The resultant clumsy and cliche-ridden prose, the heroine’s repetitious inner monologues and the numerous grammatical errors have given the book’s detractors more than enough ammunition to slap down all genre fiction.

In one of the milder rebukes, Andrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books described Fifty Shades of Grey as this decade’s multimillion-selling contributor to the art of terrible writing about sex.

”It’s not that Fifty Shades of Grey and E.L. James’s other tie-me-up-tie-me-down spankbusters read as if feminism never happened: they read as if women never even got the vote.”

Hayward doesn’t buy the feminist hand-wringing but she concedes the editing job was ”horrendous”. The contractor responsible left after the author herself complained. ”I’ve never claimed nor will I ever be an editor, I employ people for that.”

By then, however, sales were ”crazy” and Hayward says she could not spare the two weeks to take the book out of production. Notwithstanding the Vintage/Random House rights buyout, the story of the relationship between Anastasia and Christian remains a flawed work of popular fiction.

”It is what it is. I like books with a story, which is why I like Fifty Shades, I like that it tells a story, it’s got a bit of action, it’s got a bit of drama. Of course, it’s got all the sex thing going on. It’s a romance, it’s like Mills and Boon with a kick, really. With Fifty Shades it drags you into the lives of the characters and that’s what Twilight did, and it had no sex at all.”

How Hayward came to be part of the tight-knit community of fan fiction begins with a serious health scare four years ago. Recovering from health complications of pancreatitis and liver failure, depressed and on weeks of enforced bed rest, Hayward borrowed a copy of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight from her best friend, Cindy Bidwell, now her personal assistant.

”I bought the next three books the next day. I didn’t get much sleep for three or four days. It took me out of a place I didn’t want to be, and it was a getaway for me. I’m in a different place now, obviously, but that for me was probably the darkest moment of my life. We were told I was going to die. It was really, really bad. I wanted to die at one point, I’d had enough. From being in that dark place and being so sick to having something that interested me.”

E.L. James’s Master of the Universe – the forerunner to Fifty Shades of Grey – had chapters online when Hayward began reading. The two women were ”fellow travellers”, Hayward says, ”as is everyone in the community, in the sense that they were all supportive of each other, reviewing each other’s work and celebrating their individual and group successes”.

Emboldened by anonymity and a group of receptive readers weighing in with plot suggestions, Hayward began writing fan fiction stories she insists will never be commercially published. ”I’ve seen what has happened to E.L. James, I would not wish the press on my family. And I can’t do both, I can’t do the company and be a writer at the same time. It’s got to be one or the other and I’ve chosen the side I want to be on.”

Hayward’s order of zucchini flowers and bruschetta pizza crust arrives along with a bottle of crisp semillon sauvignon blanc. She had considered ordering a salad, having returned from the US only the week before where she’d enjoyed some ”fancy dinners”. Her food choices, it seems, are the basis for another intriguing story. ”I have a real visual problem. I can’t eat anything with bones in it because it tells me what it was once.”

She later gives this insight into her character: ”If I set my mind on one thing I’ll do it. I’m like a dog with a bone. You can’t put me off for any reason and that’s how everything started with the company, the name. I couldn’t keep still until it was done.”

Three years ago, disaffected with fan fiction forums, Hayward put up the money for The Writer’s Coffee Shop, a place ”where friends meet”. It took Hayward a year to convince E.L. James, aka Erika Leonard, to sign up. ”She wanted to make sure this was what she wanted. We were small, we were unknown, and she was umming and ahhing over whether to make it free and keep it online or write something different. Everybody in the community was asking her to publish it because they wanted a copy of it on their shelves.

”It wasn’t supposed to be this huge thing in bookstores. E.L. James’s ultimate dream was to find it in a WHSmith store at the airport, she thought that would be very funny. It was a dream we never thought would become reality.”

The Writer’s Coffee Shop went from subsistence income to royalty heaven. How much did she later make out of the acquisition rights? A lot? ”Yes,” Hayward deadpans. Enough to reinvest in the business? ”Yes. My husband has got a very, very well-paid job, I don’t actually have to work, which is a bonus.

”This,” she casts her hand over a pile of the Fifty Shades books, ”was just to keep me busy.”

”E.L. James said to me a few times, ‘You know when I asked what happens when this gets really big?’ – I didn’t mean this big.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Spotlight is trying, says Swan

BREAKING his silence over his two-week ban for drinking, Brownlow medallist Dane Swan says he would ”hate” to be a young player drafted now into the AFL because of the public and media focus on players.
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The Collingwood midfielder returns for tonight’s match against West Coast in Perth after a two-match suspension for a late-night drinking session and failing to arrive at training the following morning in a fit state.

Swan is regularly at the centre of off-field rumours and has grown tired of this scrutiny, as he explains in an interview airing tonight on Seven’s Saturday Night Footy.

”There is no doubt the scrutiny and the media attention that people get is definitely frustrating and annoying,” he said. ”It certainly is one of the main reasons why, talking to other players, people don’t want to be in this system for a lot longer.

”I would hate to be a kid coming in now. At least I got five or six years of having it not as bad.”

Swan admits he disappointed his teammates by going out and drinking, allegedly before and after a friend’s birthday party on a Sunday night after the round-19 win over St Kilda.

The Magpies had just agreed to a no-drinking rule for the rest of the season.

”Of course, I feel like I have let them down, but when they found out I had been drinking I had a meeting with the footy club,” Swan said.

”Obviously, the leadership group decided, like every other footy club, what the punishment was.

”It was very fair and I was supportive of the punishment, and I got what I deserved.

”So I am certainly not bitter towards anyone or have the shits with anyone. I copped my punishment, and I am completely sweet with that.”

■Richmond is in the hunt for a new elite performance manager, with Matthew Hornsby quitting after 11 years. The general manager of football, Craig Cameron, is in the UK, and thought to be set to secure Darren Burgess, who is head of fitness and conditioning at Liverpool.

Tigers president Gary March last night said the club would post its biggest profit in history, more than $2 million.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Armstrong walks away ‘the winner of seven Tours, not the guy who cheated’

AS A cyclist, he was ferocious. Only such a competitor could claim the yellow jersey of the Tour de France seven times. Now, in closing stages of court action in which he stands accused of being a drug cheat, Lance Armstrong has waved the white flag.
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Not yet a proven cheat, Armstrong is now a man who has given up the fight to prove his innocence. Instead of entering an arbitration process in which he would face former teammates who have turned against him, the 40-year-old must now live with the clouds above him turning darker by the day.

”There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough’,” said Armstrong yesterday in a statement he posted on his website.

The consequences are so grave as to cast his decision in the sharpest possible relief, with his chief tormenter, the US Anti-Doping Agency, stating it would strip him of the seven Tour titles.

Rather than being ”finished with this nonsense”, Armstrong’s abdication of his legal rights will ensure the furore over the integrity of his incredible seven straight Tour victories continues forever. Only one thing would ever stop it: Armstrong admitting he cheated. And then lied and lied and lied about it.

This is the moral and legal conundrum that appears to have prompted his reversal. ”Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances,” he wrote.

Yet, as determined as he is to dedicate his life to his five children, to fighting cancer and to being the fittest 40-year-old on the planet, Armstrong must surely know the sporting world will not let him.

The director of Sportslawyer, Paul Horvath, was ”gobsmacked” by the news. ”My world is rocked today that Lance Armstrong is copping this one on the chin. This is a very significant development in cycling, international sport and doping,” he said.

Armstrong’s decision doesn’t amount to a conviction, despite the consequences, noted Mr Horvath, yet the public could say it had ”an appearance of not being consistent with innocence” – as does the sport of cycling. If it wasn’t Armstrong, then who did win the 2004 Tour, in which every one of the first six finishers is either an accused, confessed or convicted drug cheat? Cadel Evans, who was seventh, may find himself an unlikely winner. Perhaps the sport will try to pretend the race didn’t happen.

The Australian cycling legend Phil Anderson is adamant Armstrong’s decision won’t affect his legacy. ”He’s one of the greats and will be remembered always as the winner of the seven Tours … not the guy who cheated,” he said.

Despite those prepared to testify against him, Anderson hangs on to the fact ”he’s never been caught scientifically or through the anti-doping process”.

But nothing was going to stop the US Anti-Doping Agency. ”They were just going to continue until the end; until they hear what they want to hear, they’re not going to give up,” Anderson said.

The political strategist and cycling fan Mark Textor says opinion of Armstrong will remain polarised. He raced in an era of incredible performances, said Mr Textor: ”But perhaps that’s because they were not believable.

”The fact that he’s quit on this, with the overwhelming evidence against him, will lose him a lot of fans,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Fighter finally gives up – but is it pragmatism or exhaustion?

FINALLY, Lance Armstrong has stopped saying it ain’t so. There is, as yet, no admission of guilt. Probably never will be. Maybe there is not one to give.
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Surely it speaks volumes that the highly defiant and serially litigious Armstrong will not challenge a federal judge’s decision that the US Anti-Doping Agency had the authority to hold a hearing into the allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

”Enough is enough,” is how Armstrong defended his decision not to defend himself any more – thus forfeiting his seven Tour de France titles, and submitting to a life ban from his sport.

And, certainly, it is not beyond possibility that even a man as indefatigable as Armstrong could simply be exhausted by the legal process. Tired of having to defend himself, and his amazing record, against accusations that began with whispers that his deeds – in an age of drug cheats – simply defied belief. Against reports of tampered samples, generous donations that might have caused officials to turn a blind eye and, most damagingly, the mounting testimony of fellow riders and team officials.

Armstrong cast himself as a victim in the USADA’s star chamber. An innocent man unable to defend himself against the vast bureaucracy of the anti-drug crusaders. A mere struggler at the back of the legal peloton. An ”unconstitutional witch-hunt”, he called it.

”The toll that this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me, leads me to where I am today,” he said in a statement. ”Finished with this nonsense.”

Armstrong’s link between the drug accusations and the work of his foundation is telling. His accusers might say cunning.

Throughout the long, sad investigation of Armstrong’s legitimacy, it has been impossible for many to separate the rider from the charitable institution. This has in turn created a dilemma. If Armstrong is a cheat, then is the almost $US500 million ($479 million) he has raised for cancer research and treatment with those grammatically annoying yellow ”Livestrong” wrist bands somehow tainted? Or, given he might have been just one of dozens of cheating cyclists who rode the Tour, did the ends justify the means?

For many who idolised both the rider and benefactor, the easiest thing was to ignore the white noise of scandal. To accept the word of Armstrong, who defiantly tweeted last year when yet another investigation began: ”500 drug controls world-wide, never failed a test. I rest my case.”

In the absence of that tainted sample, or a confession, many will no doubt continue to plead his case. Some because they genuinely believe he deserves to be taken on his word given the evidence, or lack thereof. Others because they would never hear a word against St Lance, and wish to remain in their self-deluding cocoons.

However, patently, the ”no positive test” defence has weakened considerably in recent years. Once, the image of drug cheats was the ugly caricatures of bulging sprinters and bearded female shot-putters from behind the Iron Curtain whose samples turned test tubes purple. The BALCO case, particularly, demonstrated how nimbly the dopers now avoid detection.

Marion Jones? No positive samples. Just a confession and a jail term.

Armstrong has also found it increasingly difficult to destroy the credibility of his accusers. Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton were easily vilified because they cheated themselves. Yet it has become apparent in a sport where, at least for a time, doping was endemic, the old maxim about taking a thief to catch a thief rings true.

At the London Olympics, I spoke with a once staunch Armstrong defender who had just returned from the Tour de France. He talked sadly of the mounting body of evidence against the great rider. Of how, across the sport, it had become increasingly difficult to believe everyone was lying, except Lance.

For millions of good reasons, Armstrong will always be a superhero. Yet, now, he is without his yellow cape.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Toughness – it’s in the Bloods

IF YOU wanted a midfield to play for your life, you would be very happy to have this Sydney group represent you.
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Every time I watch them play, it is their unrelenting and uncompromising approach to the game that has me walking away, shaking my head.

I do the same thing when I watch Joel Selwood attack the footy. Or Lenny Hayes, Jobe Watson, Trent Cotchin, Daniel Kerr, Patrick Dangerfield, Rory Sloane, Andrew Swallow, Callan Ward or Matthew Boyd. Individually, these players are the game’s true warriors. They possess a ”competitive gene” that is overdeveloped and distinctly uncommon. It allows them to overcome fear and approach every contest with a wholeheartedness that wins them the ultimate respect among peers and fans alike.

If the club you support is lucky, you will have one such player you can go along and watch each week, content in the knowledge that, regardless of the result of the game, that particular player will emerge unbowed and provide the template, hopefully, for others in the side to attempt to follow.

I say attempt because they set a benchmark few can reach. But if it can inspire the rest of the group to discover the ”will” to elevate their own effort, improvement is assured.

It is rare, however, to bear witness to a side that has so many of this treasured sort of player running around in the midfield at the same time. Kieren Jack, Josh Kennedy, Jude Bolton, Jarrad McVeigh, Luke Parker, Daniel Hannebery and Ryan O’Keefe all qualify, in my eyes, as ultimate competitors.

People often wonder what it is about the Swans that enables them to take ordinary players from other clubs and transform them into very good, consistent footballers. I would suggest that you look no further than what takes place in the middle of the ground each week.

It would appear that this midfield group inspires, challenges and even dares each other to ”outgrunt” one another when the heat of a football game is at its fiercest.

The ferocity of the attack on the football from each of these players simply seems to fuel the competitiveness in them all. They appear to want to scramble over the top of each other for the privilege of putting their head on the line and wearing one for the team.

There appears to be a frenzy when it comes to contested football. Like a pack of wild lions descending on a carcass, every one of them is maniacally desperate to get their share of what’s on offer. That they are the No. 1 contested possession side in the competition should surprise no one.

The amount of times Bolton, Jack, McVeigh, Parker or O’Keefe have left the field sporting a head bandage or stitches, or spent time on the bench under the blood rule is testament to their attitude. You get the feeling that they would not be satisfied with their efforts if at least one of them didn’t have such an experience. And if, as in the case of Parker earlier this year, the damage is a little more serious than that, then that’s a consequence that they are happy to wear as well. It may even be a sign that you have truly earned your ”colours”, the colour of the Bloods, best championed by one of the great warriors of recent times, former Swan skipper, Brett Kirk.

The other thing about this group I find fascinating is where they have come from. Only Bolton and McVeigh emerged from the absolute elite of the draft pool, with Bolton pick eight in 1998 and McVeigh pick five in 2002.

The rest were all on offer for every other club in the competition. Kennedy, of course, started with the Hawks but was traded to the Swans for pick 39.

O’Keefe slid through to the fourth round of 1999 (pick 56), Hannebery (30) and Parker (40) were second-round picks, and Jack was an inspired rookie-list selection who was elevated to the senior list in 2007.

Complementing this group are two ruckmen who share a similar mentality. Shane Mumford’s ability and willingness to follow up his ruck work with a desperation not always seen in the big men, is inspiring. He arrived at the club via Geelong, which cost the Swans pick 28 in 2009. And Mike Pyke has joined in on the act. The former Canadian rugby player came off the rookie list in 2010 and continues to improve at a rate of knots that astounds. Their opponents this afternoon are no slouches in this area. Jordan Lewis, Brad Sewell and Luke Hodge all sit comfortably under this banner.

The pedigree of the Hawks’ midfield group looks a little different to that of the Swans, however, when we look at where they originated from. Hodge, Lewis, Cyril Rioli, Isaac Smith and Xavier Ellis were all first-round draft picks, Shaun Burgoyne cost two first-round choices, Jarryd Roughead, who has spent plenty of time in the ruck was a pick two, and Max Bailey, who they remain hopeful of getting back for some football this year, was taken in the first round in 2005.

Further examination of the midfields would have it that the Hawks are not as ”inside” as the Swans. Of course, at one stage earlier in the year, the criticism of the Hawks was that they were too one-paced and had too many similar types in at the centre square. As the year has rolled on, they have been able to introduce Liam Shiels into the centre square set-up, got an increased output from renowned gut runners Smith and Clinton Young, gave Bradley Hill his debut and last week recalled Chance Bateman.

The Hawks are much more satisfied with the ”mix” they are able to produce each week.

It will be put to the ultimate test today. The Swans’ No. 1 outside runner, Lewis Jetta, has had a marvellous season but he is beginning to feel the weight of opposition attention and you would imagine that Al Clarkson is not about to let him off the hook.

So, in a battle of the midfields, who will prevail today? The Swans’ ferocious inside competitors, who sacrifice body as a matter of course, or the highly credentialled Hawks who have prioritised outside run to complement their contested ball animals?

The fact that the biggest games of the year are played at the MCG is something to consider in the coming weeks. It has been a barren destination for the boys from Sydney for some time.

But for now, on the tighter confines of the SCG, I’m leaning towards the Swannies. With more room to spread and run on the MCG, I would go the other way. Either way, expect bandages and blood at some stage today.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Swans, Saints set for NZ

SYDNEY has emerged at the top of Wellington City Council’s wish-list to play St Kilda next season in what would be the AFL’s first match for premiership points outside Australia.
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AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan yesterday said a deal to stage the Anzac Day clash at Westpac Stadium had yet to be clinched, but Wellington City Council sports and events portfolio leader John Morrison told The Saturday Age he expected the fine print, such as advertising and beer rights, to be settled within three weeks.

Morrison also revealed his preference was for the Swans to take on the Saints. The Brisbane Lions had also been considered. ”It’s up to the AFL, of course, but we certainly believe the Sydney Swans are the hot favourites,” Morrison said. ”From our point of view, we would certainly like it because Sydney has good access to Wellington. From our bigger picture point of view, we hope we can get as many Australians as possible from St Kilda and the Sydney Swans and the AFL, and there are also many Australians that are in New Zealand, not just Wellington. We are aiming for a full house.”

The AFL had hoped to finalise an agreement with Wellington City Council by late July. ”It’s more likely than not, but the deal is not done,” McLachlan said. ”St Kilda are working with all the relevant parties over there. We are very supportive of it.”

In a letter to club members this week, Saints chief executive Michael Nettlefold, understood to have held talks with the Swans, said he hoped to formally announce details ”in the near future”.

Morrison said the Saints could play as many as three matches in Wellington in 2014. The match would be broadcast after the traditional clash between Collingwood and Essendon at the MCG. The AFL would be hopeful of attracting a capacity crowd of 35,000, having yesterday revealed attendances this season had slipped three per cent up to round 20, compared to the same time last season.

The analysis showed while attendances had fallen in Victoria, a rise had been recorded in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. ”This was always expected for us. I guess what we have to do now is [think] to what extent should we be recalibrating,” McLachlan said.

Comparing 2010, the final year of the 16-team competition, to now, the AFL identified four trends that had an impact on crowd figures.

There were fewer traditional fixtures, that is matches involving the 16 clubs before expansion, while average attendance had been ”on track” this season until Port Adelaide’s recent decline. The birth of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney had also affected the situation. The redevelopment of Simonds Stadium in Geelong and the SCG, reducing capacity, was another factor, while Brisbane had recorded a drop of 32 per cent in attendance from 2010 to 2011. But the Lions had worked to stabilise that figure. ”We have to define success under a new paradigm. We have two smaller teams going in,” McLachlan said.

”If we take all the Gold Coast and GWS games out, our average crowds are the same. Therefore, the strength of the existing 16 clubs is the same.”

McLachlan said there was a ”positive correlation” between live television broadcasts, the number of which has increased under the new broadcast rights deal, and attendance, and pointed to the marquee timeslot of Friday night. He said the average television audience on Channel Seven and Fox Sports on this night was up 43 per cent, while attendance had grown 16 per cent.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Pies pair need to ruffle Eagles

DURING its past few years residing at or near the top of the AFL ladder, Collingwood has consistently shown the capacity to rise to a challenge. It won’t get many better opportunities to prove those credentials again than tonight at Patersons Stadium. On both a team and individual level.
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This is a big game for the Magpies, who will be overtaken by West Coast for that all-important top-four spot on the ladder with a loss to the Eagles.

To that end, their phenomenal and well-documented record on the road is a handy source of fortification – it stands at 10 straight wins interstate, and 16 of the past 17, a string of successes that goes back five years.

But it’s a big night for a couple of Magpie players, in particular. Travis Cloke has occupied more column centimetres and more air-time than probably any other player in the AFL this season, much of it less than glowing.

The other player might arguably have figured in less dialogue about season 2012 than just about any of his peers. But that doesn’t lessen the responsibility on his shoulders tonight.

Cameron Wood, despite the surname, is far from a Magpie favourite. But the big ruckman, with the absence of the Pies’ No. 1 man Darren Jolly, faces possibly the biggest test of his 63-game career up against West Coast’s star ruck tandem of Dean Cox and Nick Naitanui.

Wood has played just five games this season, four of them when Jolly was injured, and only one against a side with top-eight credentials, Carlton. That was in round three when the pair played as a duo, and Collingwood was smashed. This assignment looks a particularly daunting task.

But as good as the much-vaunted Cox-Naitanui combination has been for West Coast, there is some history and numbers to give both Wood, and ”the Woods”, some hope.

Wood has travelled this path before, in round 10 last year, when Collingwood comfortably defeated the rapidly emerging Eagles. He got belted for hitout numbers by the West Coast pair. But he did at least manage to remain competitive around the ground.

Jolly looked sore and tired last week against North Melbourne, and towards the end was ruthlessly exploited by the Roos’ Todd Goldstein. Against the Eagles pair, Wood, with a bit more help from the pinch-hitting Chris Dawes, might at least have the mobility required that Jolly patently lacked last week.

The bigger encouragement comes from current statistics. West Coast is a clear No. 1 on the differential rankings for hitouts (plus 20.3) and hitouts to advantage (plus 4.4). The Magpies’ equivalent rankings are 12th and seventh, which doesn’t appear to bode well.

Interestingly, though, when it comes to clearance differentials, the Eagles aren’t so hot. They’re ranked only 12th (minus 1.6). That’s one area in which Collingwood more than holds its own, the Pies ranked fourth (plus 3.6). Those figures should look a little better again for the return of their best stoppage winner in Dane Swan.

When the Pies just managed to outlast West Coast in round 13, even against Jolly, the Eagles dominated the hitouts 44-26, yet the final clearance tally was 36 apiece. Similarly, in the centre square, where Cox and Naitanui are often at their most effective – the hitout count going West Coast’s way 17-7 – the clearances were again even, with a dozen each.

That result might also give the beleaguered Cloke, defended again by coach Nathan Buckley this week, some badly needed encouragement. In clearly his most significant performance of the season, Cloke kicked five goals that afternoon, nearly half his team’s dozen for the game.

If Dawes is to share a bigger rucking load alongside Wood than he normally would in a pairing with Jolly, the Pies and Cloke will have fingers crossed for a repeat performance. He’ll certainly need better delivery than the unusually sloppy supply he and the other Collingwood forwards received from their teammates further afield in the North Melbourne loss.

Yet for all the hand-wringing over Cloke’s 2012 performance, he’s still averaging 2.2 goals a game, not an almighty tumble from last year’s return of 2.8, and while his marking has fallen away further on numbers than 2011, he remains the AFL’s No. 1 for contested marks at 2.7 a game, ahead even of Geelong star Tom Hawkins, who has had a year full of plaudits.

The turnaround for Cloke might not be as far away as many think. Wood, meanwhile, can help the Pies get the job done tonight simply by doing his job. They’re both big parts of the bigger picture.

And when it comes to that, as we’ve seen time and time again in these circumstances, Collingwood has an uncanny knack of painting an interstate masterpiece.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.