All posts by Joel Sked

Horseracing receives Government backing

by Joel Sked

Scottish horseracing has been given a boost after a meeting between Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore and representatives of The Friends of Scottish Racing Parliamentary Group (FoSR) at Westminster, over the recent controversy over horseracing levy revenues.

The issue surrounds the Horseracing Levy, a tax bookmakers pay back into racing from their gross profits. But racecourse chiefs are arguing that increasing loopholes in the legislation mean bookmakers are not paying as much as they should be, which is now affecting British horseracing.

The FoSR delegation includes MP Fiona O’Donnell and Musselburgh Racecourse boss Bill Farnsworth. They were encouraged by talks with Michael Moore, who is to raise the issue with colleagues in the government.

The Levy was introduced in 1963 when off-course betting was legalised and betting companies emerged. To make up for the money lost at the racecourses a statutory tax was introduced to give racing a return from the betting industry. Bookmakers are taxed 10% of their gross win which goes back to horseracing.

Loopholes have now materialised on two fronts. First, the rise of betting exchanges such as Betfair, where your average gambler can go online and be their own bookmaker, do not pay the levy but are charged a 3-20% commission on their wins. Betfair then pay a levy on that commission, which is a significant amount less than normal bookmakers.

Bookmakers have now moved their online sites overseas to avoid paying any taxes or the Levy.

The second loophole was made to protect independent and small bookmakers whose turnover was not enough to justify a Levy payment. But now large bookmakers are opening more stores to take advantage of gaming machines, as they are only allowed a maximum of four per store. Because of the increased number of stores it is saturating the market and now 60% of all bookmakers fall below the threshold. It was originally designed to protect only 10%.

It is now forecast that revenue from the Levy will fall to £60 million in 2010-2011. Almost half of the £115 million figure in 2008-2009.

Bill Farnsworth, general manager of Musselburgh Racecourse, is worried the loopholes will have a highly detrimental effect on British horseracing, and Scottish racing in particular.

He said: “Without a strong and fair levy a vicious circle will develop in which prize money drops, the quality of racing declines, racecourses make less money and therefore can’t put up as much money in prizes, and ultimately we will stage fewer fixtures. It is the same as football. Money gets you the best players so we need to make sure British racing, which is the best racing nation, does not become a second rate racing nation.

“Scottish racecourses will feel this most acutely and will be first to suffer. This is because we are more geographically remote from most of the training centres in England and trainers and owners will question the economic viability of racing in Scotland.”

East Lothian MP Fiona O’Donnell wants to make sure horseracing in Scotland progresses as it has done over the last few years, which she believes will not happen if the levy is not maintained.

She said: “The sport has made so much progress in recent years with many improvements to facilities, and none more so than at Musselburgh. Now we need Michael Moore to stand up for Scottish racing and give it a sporting chance to build on that progress.”

Law Related Articles:

Touched by the hand of God

Pele or Maradona? A question that will never have a definitive answer. For every ten that say Pele another ten will say Maradona. Even the games governing body, FIFA, could not separate the two, awarding a joint ‘Player of the Century’ award. After two different votes.

The mystique of the debate is only enhanced as both celebrate landmark birthdays within days of one another. On Saturday the 23rd of October Pele celebrated his 70th birthday. Tomorrow, 30th of October, Maradona turns 50.

Only in football can the two greatest players be born in the same week, albeit 20 years apart.

Two footballing Gods

Edson Arantes do Nascimento – remember it for quizzes – or Pele to the world, shot onto the global scene in 1958 as a fresh faced 17-year-old at the World Cup held in Sweden. He scored four goals in two games, including a hat-trick against France in the semi-final, to lead Brazil into the final against the hosts. Another two goals followed as Brazil ran out 5-2 winners. One of his goals was going to stand the test of time as he lobbed a Swedish defender in the box before sending a volley past the goalkeeper.

Pele was born and the World Cup was his stage.

1970 saw Pele join Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gerson and Carlos Alberto in one of Brazil’s greatest World Cup teams. The team won every game of the tournament including the 4-1 demolition of Italy in the final. It was one of the most complete footballing performances with arguably the greatest World Cup goal. And Pele was at the heart of the play. Feeding Carlos Alberto after a sweeping move.

Pele scored four goals to take his World Cup tally to 12 and it was the culmination of his Brazil career. Overall he scored 77 goals in 92 games. A phenomenal record.

However criticism was reserved for his club career. Other than a two year spell at the New York Cosmos he spent all his time at Santos. Never playing for a European club. He won a cluster of team and individual honours in his spell. But one can only wonder what would have happened if he tried his hand at a major European club.

A criticism that can not be laid at Diego Armando Maradona’s door. The Argentine God – in Argentina there is a Church of Maradona –  played for Sevilla, Barcelona and most memorably Napoli.

After a successful six years in his homeland Barcelona spent, a then world record, £5m on Maradona. But it was a difficult two years in Spain as he suffered an infamous leg break. When he moved to Italian side Napoli for £6.9m he only had the Copa Del Rey (Spain’s FA Cup) to show for his endeavours. But it was in Italy where Maradona’s career, both on and off-field, exploded into the public life.

As the goals and trophies flowed controversy followed. Worshipped by the Neapolitan’s, Maradona led the team to their only Serie A wins in 86/87 and 89/90 as well as a Uefa Cup, Coppa Italia and Italian Supercup victories in his seven years at the club.

Any football fan would delight at the wonder of his left foot and the emotion he took onto the pitch. Off the pitch however there were run ins with authorities as a drug problem increased.

It was after Napoli and a spell with Spanish side, Sevilla, that he failed a drug test for the second time. He had already been suspended for 15 months while at Napoli but the one that will stand out is at the 1994 World Cup. Maradona, captaining favourites Argentina, tested positive for banned substance ephedrine. Who can forget the footage of his celebration after a goal against Greece? His eyes literally popping out their sockets. It was no way to end an international career that dominated international football eight years earlier.

He did not make the impression that Pele did in his first World Cup as he ended the 1982 World Cup being sent-off against Brazil as Argentina were knocked out. It was 1986 that Maradona firmly planted his seed as a legend of the game. He captained the Argentine side in Mexico to a 3-2 victory against West Germany in the final. But it was in the quarter-finals against England that he will be remembered for. Controversy and genius rolled into one match. No match sums the stocky Argentine up better.

The ‘Hand of God’. A defensive mix-up sent the ball into the air in the English box. Maradona jumped with Peter Shilton and knocked the ball in with his hand. Controversy. Minutes later Maradona picked the ball up at the half way line and this time drifted past player after player before rounding Shilton and slotting into the empty net. Genius.

In 1990 he led the team again but could not inspire Argentina to a consecutive World Cup triumph. West Germany overcoming them in the final.

Diego Armando Maradona combined controversy with genius all his career. A flawed genius. One which fans love to love. Someone out of the ordinary. But someone with flaws which fans can relate. Maradona has every quality for a superhero.

He managed Argentina to a quarter-final place in the World Cup this year but still showed in training sessions he had a wand of a left foot. A wand of a left foot that has been replicated in another Argentine footballer.

Lionel Messi. The closest thing to Diego Armando Maradona. Minus the controversy.

App learning

By Joel Sked

Lectures to hand

Studying at university has taken a step further into the digital age thanks to the latest smartphone innovation introduced by the University of Edinburgh.

With requests from students to allow them to view timetables and course information from their phone the university came up with the application which should work on Apple’s iPhones, Blackberry, Nokia’s and HTC phones.

The £80,000 Mobile Campus App project is set to be introduced in January and last for a minimum of three years.

It is an idea that was originally introduced by the University of Dundee, labelled the Dundee Connect app. It allows students to search for e-mail addresses of university staff, view library card records and locate campus maps amongst other add-ons. The application from the Edinburgh University goes one further and gives students information about their course with updates about assignments or timetable changes.

Despite reservations about students deciding against going to classes and staying in bed to ‘study’ on their phone Edinburgh students believe it will be a useful application as long as information is up-to-date.

Student Matthew Dickie, 21, said: “It seems a good idea in principle but it’s entirely dependent on it being interactively updated frequently as out of date information can be problematic.”

MA in Business Studies student Murray Hughes feels it will make the university much more accessible. He said: “It has the makings of a good idea. Students don’t check their e-mail everyday and are more likely to use an interactive app. It helps students like me who travel from outwith Edinburgh make sure we are not coming into  university only to learn the class has been cancelled or moved.”

The success of the new application will be watched closely by other universities including Edinburgh Napier.

Neil Austin, Head of Customer Service for Student Affairs, at Edinburgh Napier is keen to speak to those involved in the application at Edinburgh University. Especially after UCAS have been promoting an application for student recruitment.

He told Edinburgh Napier News: “We haven’t actually heard about the app but any innovation that can help our students is something that interests us and are keen to look into.

“We will have to research the the cost and accessibility to see how many students would use it. By 2013 more people will be using the internet on their phone than on their PC. It is certainly the way forward.”

Sport News

The fit-again Craig Gordon and Gary Caldwell are among a number of changes to Craig Levein’s Scotland squad for the crucial European Championship Qualifying double header against Czech Republic and Spain.

Despite recovering from a broken arm sustained in pre-season Sunderland’s Craig Gordon will act as back-up to the impressive Allan McGregor, Levein has all but confirmed. Gary Caldwell looks likely to take part in at least one of the two games even though he has only played in Wigan reserve games.

While James McFadden and Paul Hartley are excluded through injury, Middlesbrough’s Kris Boyd has been left out because of his poor form for Gordon Strachan’s struggling side. As expected, Queens Park Rangers striker Jamie Mackie, who leads the Championship’s goal charts with eight goals in nine games, has been given his first call-up after qualifying for Scotland through his grandfather.

Celtic’s Shaun Maloney and Barnsley’s left-back, James McEveley, also return to the squad.

Dundee were plunged into further crisis after their players failed to receive their wages yesterday heightening the threat of administration.

With a tax bill of £325,000 hanging over their head the club have called in financial expert Blair Nimmo, who shut down Airdrieonians when they hit money troubles, for advice. On behalf of the club Nimmo has been working with the taxman trying to do a deal where the debt will be settled in one lump sum.

Controversial Director Calum Melville has pledged £100,000 to the debt while local businesses will provide £75,000. However the club also owe £1.6m to Melville, Bob Brannan and John Bennett in soft loans.

The club hope to pay the staffs wages next week.

For the first time in Ryder Cup history the event is set for a Monday finish after the play in Wales was suspended with barely five holes played.

Non-stop heavy rain left the course with a large number of waterlogged areas. Play started at 7.45am but conditions did not improve which forced play to be suspended at 9.43am.

Europe Captain, Colin Montgomerie, believed anything later than a 1.45pm start would result in a Monday finish. It looks even more likely once officials announced there would not be an announcement on the re-start of play until 2pm.

Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer were first out against Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson and led by two after five holes. In the other three matches Europe led two while USA were leading in one.

Small Firms Divided Over New Tax Proposals

Small Businesses on Edinburgh's Gorgie Road
Small Businesses on Edinburgh

By Lindsay Muir and Joel Sked

Small business owners in Edinburgh are divided over Labour’s new tax proposals the Dunedin Napier News has learnt today.

Labour have set out a number of measures which in the short-term will help many businesses overcome the credit crunch which has threatened to put the country in a fierce recession.

The main points that have been set out is to defer the planned  rise in corporation tax for a year, to make it easier for firm to borrow between £1,000 and £1m through a £1bn temporary state scheme, the ability for small firms who are struggling with payments to spread them out over an affordable timetable and an extra £1bn in support for exporters.

Although there are differing views on the High Street as to whether the new budget will help businesses survive the credit crunch.

Neil Finlayson of Finlayson Hayles Estate Agent on Gorgie Road believes that the recent cuts in VAT will have very little impact in the businesses long-term survival.

He said:”It is only a 2.5% decrease in VAT which means that items that cost £117.50 will now cost £115.00 for example.  And that is not going to attract consumers.  It is just like a 2.5% sale.  To make it worthwhile it would need to be at least a 20% decrease.

Finlayson also believes that the housing market will get worse before it gets better.

He carries on: “The market will bump along until it hits rock bottom.  From there it will start to pick up again.”

Although Stella Ross of Johnson’s Delicatessen also on Gorgie Road believes that if the shop was not closing down due to other factors it would have been a great help.

She said: “The owner was delighted with the report and the proposal to cut VAT and help businesses thrive in these difficult times.  It would have helped keep us ticking along without worrying about closing down because of money problems.

“Now it means there is even more of an incentive for prospective business owners to set up their business and run them profitablly.  They are making it easier for them to borrow money therefore giving new owners are starting base to build their business.”

Labour will hope that the recent budget will help maintain small business in this recent turmoil and encourage those thinking about opening their own business to do so.

Licking Hamilton’s Face

Fantastic Year
Fantastic Year

Speculation is increasing that Royal Mail are set to commerate Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 success by putting his face on a set of stamps.

The accolade could be yet another in a fantastic year for the Brit who at 23 became the youngest winner of the inaugural Formula 1 Championship and is also odds on to win yet another award in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Hamilton won the Championship in dramtic fashion on the last race day to overcome rival Felipe Massa by the slenderest of margins. It meant Hamilton claimed the Championship in only his second season after finsishing second in his rookie season.

Even though the list for its 2009 stamps has already been drawn up Royal Mail have not dismissed the idea saying he is “certainly under consideration” to become a member of a unique group of individuals – which include James Bond and Christopher Lee –  who have been commerated with their own set of stamps.

However this may attract more controversy as the Royal Mail have so far refused to issue a set of stamps in memory of Britain’s war dead which has prompted Steve McQueen, Britain’s war artist, to ask Gordon Brown to force Royal Mail’s hand.

Scottish Business Man Steals from ex-Man Utd Boss, Court Told

Joel Sked

The biggest donation in the Lib-Dems history – £2.4million – was swindled by a Scottish businessman from a former Manchester United boss, a court heard yesterday.

Michael Brown, 42, has been accused of stealing €12.7million from Martin Edwards who served as Manchester United’s chairman between 1980 and 2002 before selling his share in the club for a reported £90million.

It is claimed Brown persuaded Edwards into giving him large amounts of cash by pretending to be an international bond trader and assuring him that the money would be untouched in an HBOS account and that they would return healthy profits with no risk.

An official looking HBOS document helped trick Edwards into investing in the Scot.

Brown who is currently on the run, is being tried for nine offences betwen February, 2005 and April 17, 2006.  The charges range from perverting the court of justice to three alleging theft of a total of $11,348,003

Martin Edmunds, QC for the prosecution told Southwark Crown Court that Brown used the money to lead an “extravagant lifestyle”.  Some of the items he purchased was a $4million private jet, Range Rover, yacht, property in Mayfair and an entertainment system for his house in Majorca.

The items gave the impression that he was a successful business man along with the substantial donation to the Lib-Dems which prosecutors alleged made him look like a “well-connected man”.  As well as pursuing his lifestyle Brown also used money to pay back other investors to make it look like they were making profits.

Mr Edmunds said: “He simply never intended that the funds would be used for the purpose of trading bonds or to stay in that account. Mr Brown used the money as his own.”

Judge James Wadsworth, QC, warned jurors not to let Brown’s absence influence their verdicts.  He said: “This defendant knew the date of the beginning of the jury becuase he was in court when that date was fixed and announced.”

The trial continues.

Gesturing Player Apologises

I'm Sorry
I'm Sorry

Joel Sked

An English footballer has issued an apology over an alleged gesture of support to imprisoned friend Luke McCormick who caused the death of two boys earlier this year.

David Norris of Ipswich Town, who play in the English Coca-Cola Championship, apparently crossed his hands to make a handcuff gesture after netting the winner in his side’s 1-0 win over Blackpool at the weekend.

Luke McCormick was jailed for seven years after killing Ben Peak, 8, and Aaron Peak, 10, while driving home from Norris’ wedding after drinking.  McCormick who was driving twice over the limit crashed into the car carrying the two boys.

Although the player, who played with McCormick at Plymouth Argyle, has denied that his gesture was a message of support to his jailed friend, he has sent a letter to the family of the boys and issued a public statement apologising for how his actions had been misinterpreted.

He issued a statement on the Ipswich official website saying: “I would like to stress that I made no handcuff gesture or personal message to Luke McCormick.

“I can see how my actions may have been misinterpreted and for that and any distress this may have caused the Peak family I am truly sorry”

Even though the statement or letter failed to mention why he had done the ‘celebration’ the Peak family have accepted his apology.  Mrs Peak who was deeply upset with his gesture has said that an apology was all she wanted and that the letter showed Norris “had a heart”.

A statement from the football club confirmed that Norris has been fined and warned about future conduct.  While the Football Association (FA) have said they will contact Ipswich for an explanation of Norris’ behaviour.

Haymarket War Memorial

Haymarket War Memorial
Haymarket War Memorial

The Heart of Midlothian War Memorial is to be put back in its rightful place at Haymarket, a stones throw away from its previous location, city leaders have confirmed.

The memorial was set to be permanently moved to an obscure location in Atholl Crescent, of the main street and behind a row of trees, on the recommendation of tram company TIE.

But now a temporary stone to remember those who fought in the Great War will be laid in the street until 2011 when the memorial clock will be brought out of storage and put back into its location.

The news was cautiously welcomed by fans of the club and campaigners alike who are still concerned of its two year absence.

Jack Alexander, of the Friends of the Heart of Midlothain War Memorial said: “The clarification is good news but we will carry on with our campaign, we need to get the Historic Scotland listing improved, it is something which probably should have been done 30 years ago. We’re not terribly happy with the two-year absence. The only people who want to have a two-year consultation are the officials who propose moving it to Atholl Crescent.”

The memorial was built in 1922 to commemorate the team’s footballers who had signed up to fight in the First World War. Every year fans of the club and the general public gather on Remembrance Day Sunday to pay their respects to those who died for their country.

Councillor Cardownie who issued the statement about the memorial’s return to its location, said: “It was important to allay the fears of both Hearts supporters and the wider public.The memorial was always to return to Haymarket, the best place to be seen to remind people of the sacrifice of these brave men, particularly on Remembrance Sunday. It will return to Haymarket, and to a stone’s throw away from where it is currently located.”

Hearts were the first team to enlist in the war and a spokesperson for the club said: “The Heart of Midlothian Football Club war memorial is every bit as important as Tynecastle Stadium itself. There is one home and one home only for the war memorial and there should be an immediate reinstatement of the memorial to Haymarket on conclusion of the tram works.”

Come the end of works to the Edinburgh trams the campaign will hope that it has been a true success and the memorial is back where it belongs.

Women’s Euro 2009 Qualification Showdown

The Scottish Women’s National team have been given a tough draw in their attempt to qualify for the European Championships for the first time in their history which are to be held in Finland in August 2009.

Anna Signeul’s side – who sit 26th in FIFA’s national rankings –  will have to negotiate a two legged tie against a formidable Russia side – ranked 15th in the world – who were unfortunate not to qualify automatically after finishing as the best second place side behind group winners Norway.

The women’s team qualified from their group in 3rd place after an emphatic 6-0 defeat of a Slovenia side vying for the same spot.  The result meant they edged out Switzerland and Austria as the last third place team to enter the play-off rounds.

Swedish coach Signeul believes that to overcome the Russian side the players will have to go in to the game will belief and confidence in their abilities. She said: “This was possibly the worst draw we could of got but we can come through the tie and qualify as their is no doubt we have the quality. We just need to make sure we go out and believe that we can do it.

“The game is 180 minutes so it is not vital we win the first leg. But we need to make sure we are not out the tie before the second game.”

With 13 of the squad plying their trade with either Arsenal, Hibernian or Celtic they will have to use all of thier experience to give Scotland a fighting chance of competing in Finalnd next summer.  With much of the goalscoring burden falling on the shoulders of free-scoring striker Julie Fleeting, who netted four goals in qualifying and is Scotland’s all-time record goal scorer with 107 goals in 105 games over a 12 year period.

The team will hope to carry their recent good form – three games without defeat – into the first leg which is to played at Tynecastle stadium on Sunday the 26th of October with the return game four days later in Moscow.

The game is to be the very first involving the Scottish women’s national team to be shown on television. The new digital Gaelic channel BBC Alba which shows televises one SPL match on a Saturday night have picked the game up and will show it live on the sunday with a 3pm kick-off.

Tickets are available at the Hearts ticket office in Gorgie and in the Hearts shop in St James’ Shopping centre or over the phone on 0871 663 1874 (Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm). Advance sales will be £4 and £2 (U16s and O65s), and prices on the day will be £5 and £3 (U16s and O65s).