Sports world stunned by death of respected journalist

Popular sports media consultant and former Fairfax Media sports editor Rod Allen has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff on Cockatoo Island after celebrating at a former colleague’s 50th birthday party.
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Allen, 45, was camping overnight at the Sydney Harbour venue with his wife Laila, and is believed to have accidentally fallen 50 metres over a walkway ledge, guarded by a chest-high fence, early on Sunday.

Police said they are investigating the discovery of his body and there are no suspicious circumstances.

Some of the 100 revellers at the party in the heritage-listed Biloela House said Allen was in ”good spirits” and ”top form”.

Tributes were made as news of his death spread. Australian Olympic Committee director of media Mike Tancred said Allen managed the AOC’s office in the main press centre at the London Olympics.

”Our media team in London was one of the best ever and Rod Allen was key to that success. We are deeply saddened to learn of the sudden death of our friend and colleague.”

Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop said Allen was a major asset to the sport. ”Rod had a remarkable career in sports journalism, and more recently sports administration, and was regarded as an extremely professional and well-respected journalist, editor and media manager.

”His no-nonsense approach to the task at hand was his trademark and many who dealt with him appreciated this dedication to getting the story, hitting deadline or managing an issue.”

Mr Gallop said Allen worked with the FFA during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and bids to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

”On behalf of the Australian football community, we offer our deepest condolences to his family during this extremely sad time,” he said.

Australian Turf Club chief executive Darren Pearce said in the past four years Allen had worked tirelessly in Sydney racing.

”He will leave his mark in so many ways,” he said. ”It’s just perplexing, tragic and sad. I regularly see Rod’s mum at the racing and we always say ‘g’day’. I feel for her.

”I feel for the whole family. Our thoughts are with them all.”

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How Sky Blues lost their silver lining

1. Game plan
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Sydney’s game plan needs to be drastically overhauled before next season. Coach Frank Farina and his assistants must use the off-season to create a strategy that will enable them to compete with the league’s best teams. It’s no coincidence that the three top sides this season have the three best tacticians – and Perth Glory have raced into the finals after Alistair Edwards implemented a modern, dynamic plan. After coming from a low base, the A-League is evolving tactically at warp speed and those coaches who can’t adapt will find themselves falling behind the pack. The way forward clearly combines the three Ps: passing, positioning and possession. They’ve hardly excelled in all three, but being a team of such stature, Sydney should aim to lead the pack in all facets, and tactics shouldn’t be an exception.2. Defence

First things first: defence isn’t about the back four. It’s the whole 11. It starts from the front and each line should feverishly endeavour to pressure and then win back possession. Too often, opponents have been able to glide through Sydney’s front six and then put pressure on the defence. No team defends better as a unit than Western Sydney, who are tight, compact and composed and almost impossible to break down with any frequency. It’s a two-sided challenge – one part is for Farina to recognise this, the other is for the team to execute it on game day. Teams need to fear the defensive pressure coming from the Sky Blues. Right now, they don’t, and it shows. The back four next season should at least be bolstered by the return of Pascal Bosschaart, who brings a winner’s mentality each week.3. Slow start

Sydney have missed the finals in two of the past three seasons and the sloppy starts in both campaigns left them chasing their tails and ultimately falling well short of expectation. Although they won two of their first four matches, they lost their next four, and then won just one of their subsequent four games. Though they also failed to take points late – winning one of their final six – there was always a feeling that the troubles of October and November would ultimately cost them. Next season, the Sky Blues have to commit to getting away to a quick start and then trying to hold their place near the top of the table. As a club that leans so heavily on momentum, particularly in terms of crowd support, they need to chalk up results and confidence, not just among the players but in the stands.4. Fitness and injuries

The Sky Blues need to look long and hard at how they manage the condition of their players. Though all teams go through peaks and troughs, Sydney rarely seemed able to get their best side on the park. Early in the season they didn’t seem fit enough. By the end, they seemed plagued by injuries, and both conspired to cost the team at key stages. There needs to be a cohesive, year-long plan put in place to ensure players are fit and healthy from the first game to the last. Special consideration has to be placed on managing those over 30, of which the Sky Blues have plenty. If the club can co-ordinate a plan to get them to full strength over the pre-season, they’ll be a much better chance of competing for silverware.5. Player discipline

Sydney FC’s players might be well behaved off the field but on it, they need to tone down their hostility. Staggeringly, of the 10 worst offenders for cautions and send-offs in the league this season, Sydney has five players. Between Ali Abbas, Terry McFlynn, Brett Emerton, Sebastian Ryall and Fabio, they picked up 41 cards. It’s fine to be aggressive – and quite a good thing when used correctly – but for players of that ilk and experience, they shouldn’t be attracting the referees’ attention so frequently. Sydney ended far too many games with just 10 men or less on the park and several possible comebacks were invariably thwarted when red cards were shown.

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Bridge safety crisis

High risk: A school bus at Grieves Crossing. Photo: Peter Rae bridge
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Hundreds of ageing bridges and culverts across NSW are at risk of collapse, as councils fight a losing battle against a $6.9 billion bill to bring regional infrastructure up to an adequate standard.

In the Kyogle area alone, bridges have collapsed three times since 2004, including just last year when the Mills Road bridge failed under a loaded gravel truck. Council officials have expressed alarm about the dangers posed to school buses from a similar collapse.

Across two-thirds of the state, councils are in urgent need of more than $340 million just to bring their timber and concrete bridges up to a ”satisfactory” condition. The problem is intensifying each year as many of the 9289 bridges across NSW reach the end of their structural life.

A joint Herald/UTS investigation has found that although local governments are spending $16 million a year in an attempt to maintain their bridges, they need to be spending double that amount just to prevent the spans from deteriorating further.

Although major bridges and spans in metropolitan areas are the responsibility of the state roads authority, the majority must be managed by local councils.

Mick Savage, from the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia, said a new source of funding for the state’s bridges had to be urgently found.

”There are 650 bridges that are soon going to be unserviceable and some of those are likely to be currently unsafe,” he said.

On the north coast, a clutch of councils including Kyogle, Clarence Valley and Kempsey Shire are facing a potentially catastrophic failure of one of their 806 bridges.

For several years, these councils have been forced to continually lower the load limits on their bridges to keep them open.

”They are a massive, massive problem for us,” said Graham Kennett, the head of infrastructure at Kyogle Council. ”It is the only ‘extreme risk’ we have got.”

Mr Kennett said that in 2008, a council water tanker fell through the Simes Road Bridge, ”which we preferred than a school bus”.

But a 12-tonne school bus still plies its way each day over the Grieves Crossing, one of 13 bridges along Gradys Creek road in the Kyogle council area. Grieves Crossing is rated 4.04 on the government’s 1-5 condition scale; a level 5 would be deemed ”critical, beyond repair”. There are an unknown number of similar school bus crossings across the state.

According to the first ever statutory self-assessment required of councils, at least 65 councils in 2011 reported significant or ”critical” deterioration of their bridges and culverts. Despite this, just months after winning government, the O’Farrell administration terminated a program to replace timber bridges that had been running since 2006, and which had led to the construction of 172 new spans in 57 council areas.

A $145 million ”Bridges for the Bush” program announced in October last year instead caters to bridges on roads used by major haulage companies, and will not provide a single dollar to councils trying to prevent the closure, or worse, the collapse of their bridges.

Meanwhile both bus and transport companies are lobbying the state government to raise load limits on local roads, the Herald has learnt.

In the Clarence Valley area, there are 17 bridges that have the second-worst asset condition rating, described in official government reports as ”requires major reconstruction”. If these bridges are not swiftly repaired, they will move to ”critical, beyond repair”.

The council also has 163 other bridges rated as ”deterioration evident”, some of which are in ”marginal” condition.

The Herald’s analysis was based on a new mandatory reporting regime forced on councils in 2011, whereby each council had to produce a detailed asset condition report known as a Special Schedule 7.

These documents show that some of the poorest councils in the state also face the largest infrastructure bills.

Cobar Shire Council (population 5120) needed to spend $46 million to bring its bridges and culverts up to a satisfactory standard, and Lachlan Shire Council (population 6967) faced a $23 million bill. In Cobar, the backlog equates to a bill per household of $18,714.

A 2011 report by the Mid-North Coast Group of Councils reported that the average condition of bridges on the north coast was ”evident deterioration”, and that each council was spending about $928,000 less per year on maintenance than was required. But the problems could be worse.

The Herald analysis shows that in 2011, dozens of councils failed to meet the new statutory reporting requirements in full, with many unable to identify the condition of their bridges.

Mr Savage said councils are going to be forced to close an increasing number of bridges because they cannot afford to maintain them. ”The only hope that local government has got is that there is a new source of revenue negotiated with the federal government.”

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Online apps take bite of illegal betting

Concerned: Senator Richard Di Natale wants the federal government to “clamp down” on overseas gambling operators. Photo: Pat Scala Senator Nick Xenophon wants legal loopholes to be closed.
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Independent MP Andrew Wilkie wants the rules on online gambling sites to be tightened. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Apple Australia may be breaching federal online gambling laws by offering apps such as PokerStars which allow Australians to bet on casino-style games with real money.

”We don’t allow online poker in Australia for Australian people under the Interactive Gambling Act … they [Apple] have got an obligation to take down apps that are against Australian law and they should do it,” said Greens senator Richard Di Natale, a member of the gambling reform committee.

While online sports betting is flourishing, the act prohibits the provision of all online casino-style gambling to Australians.

Fairfax Media was able to download the PokerStars app from the Australian iTunes app store, deposit real money and join cash tables. Apple declined to comment.

The final report of the review of the act, released in March, found that there may be about 2200 online gambling providers illegally offering services to Australians, who lose an estimated $1 billion a year on online gambling outlets that are not licensed in Australia.

The review found that existing regulations were not adequate and recommended the legislation be amended to enable and encourage prohibited online gaming sites to become licensed. However, the government has rejected the recommendation.

Many services are hosted overseas and so operate without Australian consumer protections and regulations and do not pay any tax here. Some, like PokerStars, have an Australian office and bank accounts.

Senator Di Natale said the federal government should ”clamp down” on these operators where possible. He also expressed his concern about social gambling apps on services like Facebook, which he believes may ”normalise” gambling, particularly for children.

Some online gambling services exploit a further legal loophole by allowing Australians to pay real money for virtual currency which is then gambled but cannot be cashed out. Independent senator Nick Xenophon said this ”habituates gambling”.

”If the government is serious about … [avoiding] the kids of today becoming the gambling addicts of tomorrow they need to close this loophole,” Senator Xenophon said.

One Perth-based social gambling app operating in the grey area is Chumba Casino, which founder Laurence Escalante said crossed social gaming with online gambling by adding experience points, avatars, quests and social bonuses.

”We ‘gamify’ gambling to make it even more fun, accessible and safe,” said Mr Escalante, who recently raised $2.5 million venture capital and is seeking a gambling licence.

”[Prohibition] simply doesn’t work, and enforcing it in practical terms is difficult, if not impossible.”

Gambling reform committee chairman and independent MP Andrew Wilkie has said rather than allowing online gambling sites to be licensed in Australia, the government should ”tighten” the rules further ”and put in place strategies to deter Australians from accessing the dangerous offshore sites”.

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Lost revenue demanded after asylum seekers housed at club

Unhappy: John Clunies-Ross and Maxine McCartney. Photo: Wolter Peeters On a midweek afternoon the Cocos Club is a hive of activity.
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The club, in the bustling community hub of West Island, home to about 120 people in the Cocos Islands cluster, is run by a small co-operative of islanders. But this tiny place, just 14 kilometres long, has found itself unwittingly thrust into the national asylum debate.

The Cocos Islands, an Australian territory just over halfway between Sri Lanka and Australia, has not traditionally been part of the people smugglers’ trade route but, at one point last year, the islanders say, about four boats were arriving from Sri Lanka each week.

With scant facilities on the island, federal authorities commandeered the social club – which is owned by the Commonwealth and leased to the co-operative – about half a dozen times in 2011 and last year to temporarily house asylum seekers while preparations were made to send them to Christmas Island. The club’s management say they should be paid for their lost revenue during these times and for the use of the facility.

Increasingly angered by the attitude of the federal government, the club has sent increasingly high bills and demands for payment to the Department of Immigration. It is now asking for about $79,000.

”It’s just frustrating,” club manager Maxine McCartney said. ”We’re a forgotten little dot of fly poo in the Indian Ocean.”

The club was first, briefly, taken over in 2010 before arrangements could be made to take asylum seekers to Christmas Island. In 2011 the club was home to 86 asylum seekers, Ms McCartney said, from Easter Thursday to the following Monday night.

Ms McCartney said islanders spent their days and nights cooking meals for the men, women and children sleeping in the club and sourcing bulk supplies of T-shirts and sarongs from nearby Home Island.

”So many people gave up their time without question, without hesitation, and they won’t get any compensation,” she said. ”We didn’t even get a response.”

A Department of Immigration spokesman said: ”The department has paid all outstanding invoices for which it is liable for the use of the Cocos Club on Christmas/Keeling Island.”

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