Australian Open 2016: Novak Djokovic accused of throwing match, denies allegations

Roger Federer eases past Alexander DolgopolovDaria Gavrilova stuns sixth-seed Petra Kvitova​

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World No.1 Novak Djokovic has dismissed as “absurd” Italian media reports alleging he deliberately threw a match as a 19-year-old in 2007.

Following yet another straight sets win at the Australian Open on Wednesday night, Djokovic was bombarded with questions about the match he lost when he was world No.4 to the now retired Fabrice Santoro at the Paris Masters nine years ago.

Djokovic admitted at the time that he was struggling to perform at his best during the match in question because of dental surgery he had prior the Paris Masters to remove two wisdom teeth.

He wasn’t impressed with the line of questioning, but when pressed on the allegations in Italian newspaper Tuttosport, the Serbian denied he intentionally threw the match.

“It’s not true,” Djokovic said.

“What it is to say? I’ve lost that match. I don’t know if you’re trying to create a story about that match or for that matter any of the matches of the top players losing in the early rounds, I think it’s just absurd. Anybody can create a story about any match. That’s my point.

“There hasn’t been too many matches where top players lost in last decade or so in early rounds. You can pick any match that you like that the top player lost and just create a story out of it. I think it’s not supported by any kind of proof, any evidence, any facts. It’s just speculation. So I don’t think there is a story about it.”

The opening grand slam of the season has been thrown into turmoil following reports from the BBC and Buzzfeed suggesting 16 top 50 players had been flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit over match-fixing suspicions.

According to the report, authorities have been repeatedly warned about a core group of 16 players, all of whom have been ranked in the top 50.

Djokovic himself admitted he was the subject of a non-direct proposition to throw a match in St Petersburg in 2006 for $200,000.

But the five-time Australian Open champion said all he wanted to say about the match-fixing scandal in the sport after the first round on Monday, when he said there was “nothing happening at the top level, as far as I know”.

“My response is that there’s always going to be, especially these days when there is a lot of speculations, this is now the main story in tennis, in sports world, there’s going to be a lot of allegations,” Djokovic said on Wednesday night.

“I have nothing more to say. I said everything I needed to say two days ago. You know, until somebody comes out with the real proof and evidence, it’s only a speculation for me … You don’t want these kind of subjects or speculations going around. I think that certain media is just trying to create a story out of it without any proofs. So as long as it’s like that, it’s just a story. That’s all.”

But, later in the media conference on Wednesday night, Djokovic commented generally when asked whether it was sad to see his sport surrounded with such allegations.

“You don’t want these kind of subjects or speculations going around,” he said.

“I think that certain media are just trying to create a story out of it without any proof.So as long as it is like that, it is just a story. That’s all.”

Tour Down Under: BMC still poised for two-pronged attack with Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte

Defending Tour Down Under champion Rohan Dennis is the leader of the BMC team at this year’s race, but as it approaches halfway his team’s two-pronged attack plan with Richie Porte is still in active mode.

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Like last year when the now retired Cadel Evans was BMC’s leader and Dennis their second option before he took the lead with his stage three win on the climb to Paracombe, the team is keeping an open mind as Thursday’s third stage looms.

The climb to Paracombe is not in this year’s route, but stage three – 139km from Glenelg to Campbelltown – should be as crucial with the steep, twisting Corkscrew climb 5.7km from the finish and an equally challenging decent of it.

Hence, BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz said on Wednesday during the 132km second stage from Unley to Stirling when asked about Porte’s role or chances: “Nobody is going to put the brakes on.

“This sport is pretty unpredictable. You have to take chances when they are there. A two-pronged approach in a race like this gives us an opportunity. We had it last year with Cadel and Rohan. It worked fine.”

Soon after Ochowicz spoke, Dennis showed his desire to leave an early mark by placing third on the stage behind Queensland winner Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) who pipped Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) to win.

The finale was marred by a crash inside the last 500m that took out Victorian favourite Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), who did not sustain serious injury and because the crash occurred inside the last three kilometres did not lose time.

During the day, Gerrans also picked up five seconds on time bonuses at two intermediate sprints, while McCarthy, Ulissi and Dennis collected a 10, six and four second bonuses respectively for their first to third placings on the stage.

As a result, McCarthy leads the tour overall by four seconds over Ulissi, while Gerrans is third overall at five seconds and Dennis fourth at six seconds. Porte, meanwhile, is 58th at 10 seconds with 82 other riders.

With the Corkscrew on Thursday and the stage-five finish to the top of Willunga Hill on Saturday, there is plenty of opportunity for any number of riders to win the race.

Hence, BMC’s two-pronged attack, where Dennis and Porte can take their chances, or cover the moves of their rivals for each other to still keep BMC in the hunt.

Dennis’ strong finish showed he is in good form, but he conceded that he may not have placed third had there not been the crash involving Gerrans, South African Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Lieuwe Westra (Astana).

“The plan was to stay out of trouble – if I was up there, with a chance to sprint, I would. That ended up happening,” Dennis said.

“If the crash hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t have been third.

“I was a little too far back and I was lucky enough to miss that [crash].

“I was probably the first person not to hit it. Everyone else got caught up, at least, and I was the first one to get around.”

Simon Katich says Manuka is ”certainly good enough to host a five-day game”

Umpire retires hurt after being hit by Finch driveLive blog: How the fourth ODI unfolded

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Former Test star Simon Katich has dismissed claims the Manuka Oval pitch is not lively enough to host Test cricket, and believes another one-day international sellout in Canberra could help the goal become reality.

Katich is now involved in player development with AFL club Greater Western Sydney Giants, who have played three premiership matches and a pre-season game in Canberra since 2012.

The Giants have enjoyed an upgrade in the quality of fixtures played in Canberra as crowds have grown.

Having been allocated non-finals teams like Melbourne and Gold Coast initially, last year’s Geelong clash at Manuka sold out, while it is expected Cats and Richmond games this year will follow suit.

Katich says Canberra cricket can enjoy a similar domino effect as ACT government chief minister Andrew Barr chases the “holy grail” of a Test match.

A sold-out crowd packed the ground to watch the Australia-India clash on Wednesday night.

Manuka has come further into the frame as Test crowds have dwindled this summer, with Brisbane, Perth and, in particular Tasmania, coming under pressure to retain hosting rights.

“The Giants have certainly spent a lot of time down here playing games regularly and the public has supported it with the first sellout game last year,” Katich said.

“It goes hand in hand, you can’t expect to receive handouts and not give anything back. Canberra has had World Cup games and one-day games and they’ve got good crowds, Test cricket is the next step.

Katich, who was part of the ABC commentary team for Wednesday’s Australia-India one-dayer at Manuka, does not subscribe to former Test batsman Dean Jones’ theory a drop-in pitch is required due to its low and slow nature.

Batsmen have traditionally dominated, a trend which continued on Wednesday.

“I played against Tassie down here a couple of years ago for NSW and it was a result,” Katich said.

“It was a good wicket. It spun, there was reverse swing and it was good to bat on.

“It’s certainly a big advantage if you bat first, but there’s a lot of wickets like that around the world anyway, like in India and the Adelaide Oval.

“It’s certainly good enough to hold a five-day game.”

Katich does not feel Tasmania should be judged solely on the poor attendances for this summer’s Test against the West Indies, who set the trend for the rest of the series with a shocking display.

“It’s hard to judge them on that because it didn’t help the way the West Indies played. On the first day they were woeful,” he said.

“Tasmania is obviously keen to protect their Test cricket down there but if the conditions are good, which they are here [Canberra] and the crowds are here, no doubt Cricket Australia will look at it depending on who is touring.

Cricket NSW has recently voiced its desire to campaign for two Tests per summer, including a day-night fixture after the success of the historic Australia-New Zealand clash at Adelaide this season.

SCG Trust chair Tony Shepherd is also the Giants chairman and Katich does not believe the bold bid will happen.

“I’m pretty sure Tony was just creating a bit of a stir with that one, having spoken to him afterwards,” Katich said.

“Melbourne and Sydney are entrenched in the Test summer and probably Perth as well, that time difference works well for TV on the eastern state.

“For me it [Canberra Test] has to tie in well with the right time and the right series.”

Katich was unsure whether a day-night Test would work in Canberra.

The pink ball came under heavy fire from Test batsman Adam Voges after it was used for the Prime Minister’s XI-New Zealand game at Manuka earlier this summer.

“It’s hard for me to comment on it because I don’t think I ever played a day-night game down here, but I’m assuming the lights are at a suitable level given they’re playing one-day internationals here,” he said.

“There’s a lot of speculation about the pink ball. It was overwhelmingly positive [after the Adelaide Test] so who’s to say it couldn’t happen in a Test here.”

British extremist Abu Haleema turns to Australia

Abu Haleema, in a YouTube video. Photo: Supplied Abu Haleema has produced YouTube videos attacking moderate Sydney sheikh Wesam Charkawi. Photo: Supplied

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A panel session at Liverpool’s MIA mosque featuring Sheikh Abu Adnan (left) and police officer Danny Miqati (second from left) that attracted the ire of Abu Haleema. Photo: Facebook

A British preacher considered so extreme in his home country that he has been kicked out of mosques and spurned by the Islamic community has turned his gaze to Australia and is quickly building a support base in Sydney and Melbourne.

Abu Haleema, who had his passport cancelled in Britain and was arrested on terrorism offences last year, has produced YouTube videos in recent weeks attacking moderate Sydney sheikhs Shady Alsuleiman and Wesam Charkawi.

He also attacked Liverpool imam Sheikh Abu Adnan for allowing Bankstown policeman, Danny Miqati, to give a talk in the mosque about domestic violence.

However, Australian authorities are powerless to stop Haleema from spreading his hardline sermons on YouTube and Facebook, where he is gathering a following among young Australians including some of those on the periphery of a group charged over the murder of police accountant Curtis Cheng.

Counter-terrorism police told Fairfax Media they were aware of Haleema’s influence but could do little other than monitor his online interactions.

“This is the problem, a lot of the influence is coming from overseas via the internet,” said one officer.

On Tuesday, Britain’s Channel 4 aired a documentary, The Jihadis Next Door, in which a filmmaker spent two years with Haleema and his small group of extremist preachers.

It shows them being turned away from mosques and preaching on the streets, where British Muslims yell abuse at them for brainwashing teenagers and supporting Islamic State.

Haleema doesn’t speak Arabic and has no formal qualifications. His videos resemble rap videos, filmed in front of graffiti walls or underground train tunnels and shouted in a fast, repetitive style.

It’s not known why Haleema has turned his focus to Australia, however he is receiving a warm reception.

“He’s definitely playing to the audience here,” said one Sydney Muslim leader, who asked to remain anonymous. “People follow him because he’s so staunch and he’s attacking the leaders who are trying to do the right thing.”

Melbourne-born Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash previously hinted on social media that he was close with Haleema.

The preacher was also instrumental in radicalising the 14-year-old British boy who contacted Melbourne teenager Sevdet Besim and allegedly urged him to launch a terrorist attack on Anzac Day.

He had about 7000 Facebook followers until his page was shut down in mid-December. His fans included several men targeted in Operation Appleby raids in Sydney.

On his newly-created fan page, a Gold Coast man said, “love your shirk shady video akhi its good to know you stand behind us”.

In the video, Haleema attacked Sheikh Shady for giving Australian Muslims a fatwa, or religious ruling, allowing them to join the police, army and navy. He called the sheikh a “shirk”, or idolater, for supporting democracy and non-religious law.

“It seems they’re all in Sydney. Sydney needs to be re-named the land of the heretic scholars,” he said. “Even the other day on Instagram, I seen someone saying they’re joining the army coz Shady gave them a fatwa.”

He berated the sheikh, who is widely-respected among the youth, for counselling a schoolboy who refused to stand for the “Anzac anthem” at school and for supposedly teaching the theory of evolution to students.

He also criticised Sheikh Wesam, another respected youth worker, for condemning the Paris attacks and for taking a photograph alongside a woman. He incorrectly stated that the sheikh hugged the woman, which Sheikh Wesam denied.

Edith Cowan University professor Anne Azza Aly, founder of People Against Violent Extremism, said the spread of such “online theological superstars” could only be fought by a young person’s friends and family offering counter-narratives.

“What we can do is actually very little to be honest,” she said. “I could come up with a video that challenged everything Abu Haleema says. The government could fund a counter-propaganda campaign. But it will never be as effective as when one friend says, “are you mad dude, why are you liking this guy?” That challenge has to happen in a very organic way.”

The Grand Mufti has previously lamented the influence of “Sheikh Google and Sheikh YouTube,” blaming it for the radicalisation of Farhad Jabar, the teen who killed Mr Cheng.

A spokesman for the federal Attorney General’s Department said the government has invested $21.7 million to challenge terrorist propaganda and has partnered with social media companies and communications agencies to take down extremist material and build “digital resilience”.

NSW Police said they routinely monitor social media. A spokesman said the key to silencing online hate preachers “will always be awareness and the reporting to authorities [of extremist material]”.

Haleema has been contacted for comment.

Finch’s forgotten century as much-maligned Manuka pitch produces another cracker

It’s apparently the pitch imperfect, a much-maligned deck, but it proved to not only be a happy hunting ground for Aaron Finch, but cricket as well in another amazing runfest at Manuka Oval.

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Finch produced his second consecutive century in Canberra, having also passed the ton against South Africa there last summer.

And he did it in impressive fashion, switching seamlessly from playing second-fiddle to Warner to setting the pace.

His 107 was two short of the total he scored against South Africa as Australia looked certain losers with just 12 overs remaining before an astonishing Indian collapse gifted them the game.

The visitors were coasting with Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli in total control of the game, but their demise in quick succession was the start of a remarkable collapse.

It was just another thriller at Manuka — on the back of last year’s Big Bash League final, which went down to the last ball, and a record-breaking Chris Gayle double century during the last summer’s World Cup.

But unlike the controversial Gayle’s match-winning knock, Finch’s century was all but forgotten after the manner in which the Aussie bowlers turned things around.

“I hope [it’s not forgotten] because that was a serious innings. [Finch] and Davey [Warner] set the tone I guess and us bowlers were loving it, but we weren’t really because we knew we had to go out there and bowl on that wicket,” Aussie man-of-the-match Kane Richardson said.

“He did the same thing here [last summer]. He loves Canberra I think, this wicket, that was a good knock for him and will give him a lot of confidence going into Sydney, and he’s the T20 captain as well so it’s the perfect time for him to make a big hundred.”

While Finch continued his love affair with Manuka, it wasn’t the happy homecoming Nathan Lyon would have wanted, the former ACT Comet struggling with the ball to post figures of 1-76 off his 10 overs.

He was hoping to press his case to be Australia’s leading spinner in all three forms of the game, but Australia captain Steve Smith’s gamble to open the bowling with Lyon didn’t pay off.

He went for 22 off his first two overs and continued to struggle until he fought back to get a wicket as the Indian scalps were tumbling late in the game.

Having not only established himself as Australia’s No.1 spinner at Test level, but also the greatest ever offie for his country, Lyon was hoping he to become the No.1 tweaker in ODIs as well as the Twenty20 World Cup in India this March.

Lyon played his last ODI against Pakistan in Dubai in October 2014, while he’s never played an international T20.

It will be interesting to see whether the selectors stick with him for the final one-dayer at his NSW home ground of Sydney on Saturday.

Commuter crush: More trams needed to cope with surge in light rail demand

Demand for light rail services has surged over the past year. Photo: Christopher Pearce Up to 90 extra services a week will run between Central and Dulwich Hill. Photo: Tamara Dean

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A surge in passengers on Sydney’s inner-west light rail line over the past year has prompted the operator to put on up to 90 extra services a week to cope with demand during peak travel periods.

The number of passengers using the trams rose almost 60 per cent to 6.1 million last financial year due in large part to the opening of a 5.6-kilometre extension of the line to Dulwich Hill in early 2014, government figures show. The line runs from Central Station to the inner west via Pyrmont, Glebe and Lilyfield.

The patronage statistics will not be a surprise to commuters who are increasingly finding carriages packed.

Most of the extra peak-hour services will begin from Monday, while the remainder will be put on by the middle of the year. In total, tram services will rise from 197 to 215 on weekdays.

Transport officials expect it will result in a service running every eight minutes during peak travel periods on weekdays, instead of every 10 minutes at present.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the increase in tram services would allow an extra 3700 people to travel on the light rail line each day during the peak periods.

“Demand for light rail is expected to rise so we’re putting on extra services to make sure we’re ahead of the curve,” he said.

The afternoon peak travel period will also be extended by an hour to 7pm on weekdays, leading to a service every 10 minutes.

The surge in demand also bolsters the case for Sydney’s $2.1 billion light rail line from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kensington in the city’s east, as well as the Parramatta light rail project.

Construction of the new line to Sydney’s eastern suburbs began late last year, and the first trams are due to run on it in 2019.

ALTRAC, the consortium of four companies building the new line through Sydney’s CBD, also operates the inner-west light rail. It will run the extra services using its existing fleet of trams.

With construction of the Sydney light rail ramping up early this year, the University of NSW has raised concerns that stops for trams near its campus in Kensington will not be large enough to cope with the expected growth in commuters when it opens.

The university has forecast students and staff will use up to 76 per cent of the capacity – or 5300 passengers per hour – on the two branches of the light rail line to Kensington and Randwick by 2021.

About 26,000 people already catch public transport to the university on weekdays, and four of the six busiest bus stops in Sydney are between Central and UNSW.

Australian Open: Nick Kyrgios courts controversy, races into third round after short battle

Getting shorty: Australia’s Nick Kyrgios lets fly in his match against Pablo Cuevas. Photo: Joe Armao Australian Nick Kyrgios playing against Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas on Hisense arena. Australian Open 2016. 20th January 2016 The Age news Fairfaxmedia Picture by Photo: Joe Armao

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Inbetweener: Nick Kyrgios attempts a trick shot against Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas. Photo: Joe Armao

How it happened: Kyrgios vs Cuevas​Roger Federer eases past Alexander Dolgopolov​Daria Garilova  stuns sixth seed Petra Kvitova​Novak Djokovic denies throwing match

In his own words, Nick Kyrgios’ blistering straight sets win over Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas was an “absolute circus”, but contenders for this year’s Australian Open will be taking the talented Australian very seriously after he raged into the third round on Wednesday night.

In front of a packed house at Hisense Arena, Kyrgios sent a message to the rest of the tournament with an impressive 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (7-2) demolition job over Cuevas but, as always with Kyrgios, there was drama – this time a “wardrobe malfunction”.

The 20-year-old was clearly agitated during the first 1 and ½ sets of his match, angry that a new pair of his Nike brand shorts were apparently too small and needed to be changed.

He eventually did change the shorts late in the second set, from white to black, and it turned out to be a crucial moment in the match.

Even though he won the first set, Kyrgios was clearly riled as he went down 3-4 in the second set and called for a “toilet break”, or effectively a wardrobe change, to swap into some different shorts.

Once he emerged from the tunnel – back in black, so to speak – Kyrgios quickly regained control, taking the second set and eventually the match, although he had to go through a tie-breaker in the third set to seal the deal.

Asked about the shorts during his TV interview after the match, Kyrgios said he did not want to discuss what happened other than to say “it was an absolute circus”, and he was no more forthcoming with details in the media conference an hour later.

“It was just a bit of a mix up before the match. I guess it will be fixed by the next round,” he said.

Kyrgios was asked whether the short controversy actually worked for him in the first set – for it appeared that “playing angry” was bringing out some spectacular tennis.

“It is probably not the best thing, playing too angry. It does expend a lot of energy and, in best-of-five tennis, you want to try to keep it all in the tank, if you can,” he said.

Cuevas queried the timing of the break with the chair umpire at the time, believing that it should have come at the end of the second set.

“I thought it was a bit strange, the time he picked to do that. But it was okay,” Cuevas told a translator, in his post-match media conference, when asked about the incident.

In a typically entertaining display, Kyrgios also required a medical timeout in the third set to receive treatment on his right elbow.

However the No.29 seed said “everything is fine”, as he looks ahead to a third-round match up against No.6 seed Tomas Berdych.

“It was just a little bit of pain, nothing to be too concerned about,” Kyrgios told Channel Seven.

On the upcoming match with Berdych, Kyrgios said he expected the atmosphere to be “crazy”.

“They all love Berdych as well, he’s got a massive fan base. He is one of the greatest players playing right now so it’s going to be a really good match.”

Kyrgios said he was moving as well as he ever has going into the blockbuster showdown.

“I feel that’s the biggest part of my game that’s improved from last year,” he said.

“I feel that when I’m in the backcourt in a rally, there’s not many balls that can get past me.

“It helps my game so much. It feels like I don’t have to be so aggressive – I don’t feel like I have to force so much, I can sit back a bit.”

The drama on Wednesday night began before for the match did, as the already hyperactive Kyrgios seemed annoyed by the miss-fitting shorts right from the outset and could not let the issue go.

On numerous occasions he had verbal exchanges with his team at courtside, as his brother tried to calm him down and get his mind on the job.

Kyrgios also let his frustrations out at the umpire in the early going, but for the most part, the controversy did not disrupt his play – in the first set at least – as he slammed down a half-dozen 200km aces and a series of brutal winners to take the opener 6-4 and set the tone for a highly-charged display.

It was a typical roller-coaster performance, though, with his emotions hitting extreme highs and lows.

One second he was sharing a joke with the crowd, and the next he was throwing his towel into the ground at a change of ends late in the third set and screaming at himself for letting his advantage slip.

Earlier in the day he had been slapped with a $US3000 fine for “audible obscenities” in his first round victory against Pablo Correno Busta on Monday.

In his second round match, he constantly played at the edge.

He toyed with Cuevas, faking drop shots and, at times, halting his charge to the net completely and playing shots as if he were on slow motion replay.

Sometimes he went too far and it cost him. He dropped a game on serve late in the third set and was facing two set points at 4-5 down.

But, true to form, he got out of that predicament by sending down a 200km second serve, among other pieces of low-percentage by highly-effective play.

And, despite all his antics, his actual tennis was superb as Kyrgios used his height and power advantage to rush through his veteran, one-dimensional opponent, who played from deep in the backcourt far too often.

Stockton keep their finals hopes alive

STOCKTON kept their Newcastle District Cricket Association semi-final hopes flickering –and possibly killed off Wallsend’s –with a 14-run victory in Wednesday night’s Twenty20 showdown at No.1 Sportsground.

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A big-hitting final over from Stockton’s Sam Jenkinson proved the difference in a hard-fought affair.

After winning the toss and batting, Stockton looked set for an average total until Jenkinson unleashed in the 20thover, hitting two sixes and a four to take 18 from the bowling of Pat Magann.

That left Stockton with 8-141 to defend.

Batting at No.5, Jenkinson finished unbeaten on 60 from 36 balls, which included three sixes and four fours.

Matt McGovern was the pick of Wallsend’s bowlers, with 2-22 from his four overs.

Wallsend suffered an early blow in their run chase when guest player Nathan Price, on loan from Randwick-Petersham, holed out for 12.

Skipper Jake Montgomery (24) and Jake Scicluna (23) tried valiantly to resurrect the innings, and 23 sundries did not help Stockton’scause.But two run outs, combined with tidy spells from left-armer Lucas Sargent (3-21) and off spinner Nick Foster (2-20) ensured Wallsend finished with 9-127.

CLOSE CALL: Stockton batsman Sam Jenkinson just avoids being run out by Wallsend keeper Josh Forsyth. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The win lifted Stockton to 40 points, six points behind fourth-placed Toronto, with eight rounds remaining.

Wallsend remained 16 points adrift of the top four.

In Thursday’s fixture, competition strugglers Waratah-Mayfield and Western Suburbs will do battle at No.1 knowing that the wooden spoon could be riding on the outcome.

Explainer: Malcolm Turnbull and the incendiary idea to partition Iraq

This week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised eyebrows by professing openness to a very controversial idea. He suggested that a partition in Iraq and Syria could form part of a lasting political solution in a broken region.

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“The border between Syria and Iraq is just a line on the map. Neither country can be secured without a settlement in the other,” the Prime Minister told Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“The enmities are so deep, the wrongs so shocking, that every option should be on the table – from an institutionalised power-sharing to some form of partition.”

But what exactly does that last word mean? Well, it depends on who you talk to. However, the basic premise is this: divide the region up along ethno-religious lines for the Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds as either separate countries or as states within one federal system, the objective being stability and a halt to sectarian violence.

It is probably not true to say that Mr Turnbull strongly backed partition but he has seemingly adopted his “not ruling anything in or out” approach to policy making, in which “creative pragmatism” and compromise are essential.

But even allowing it to be on the table is a cause for consternation in some circles. History

The borders of Iraq and Syria as we know them were created by colonial powers in the early 20th century. They are often called “artificial” and referenced as a cause of instability as countries struggle to control divergent populations or do so with oppressive tactics.

The broad idea of partition – originally proposed just for Iraq before Syria collapsed – has gained popularity in the United States over the last decade.

In 2006, then senator (and now vice-president) Joe Biden and foreign policy expert Leslie Gelb suggested a federalist system, as allowed by the Iraqi constitution, with three distinct states for the major sectarian groups.

This would maintain central government in Baghdad, where oil revenue is distributed and decisions on foreign policy, trade and the military are made while regional governments would have dominion over education and other areas.

The idea of this “soft partition” – which won the support of the US Senate the following year – is that these regions would be satisfied with the level of autonomy and stay unified in one country.

And while Biden and Gelb specifically criticised the idea of a full partition creating separate countries, a setting they warned the country was heading towards anyway, this even more controversial idea now attracts attention as well. The status quo

The prediction that the region was heading for de facto partition has, according to many experts, become reality.

Professor Amin Saikal, director of the ANU’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, says that the “territorial contours” of Iraq (and Syria) have already changed.

“If you look at Iraq, it has become three distinct entities,” Professor Saikal argues.

There is the territory still controlled by the formal, Shiite-dominated government of prime minister Haider al-Abadi in the east and south-east, which includes the majority of the Iraq’s oil reserves.

There are the Kurds, with 20 per cent of the population, who have established a relatively autonomous state in the north defended by their Peshmerga, a sub-national militia. In recent years, the regional government has both solidified control of its territory and expanded to include valuable oil fields.

In the west and north-west, Sunni extremists Islamic State are in control. As long as they survive across Syria and Iraq, it is difficult to say how the borders will settle.

“In some ways, you already have the partition of Iraq. It is already divided but whether it should be transformed into a formal division is a different story altogether,” Professor Saikal said.

Expanded to include Syria, the whole notion becomes even more complex. The Assad regime in Syria now has control over less than a third of its country, with Islamic State and other rebel fighters dominating the rest. The Iranians and Russians are heavily involved and back the government in Damascus. Support and criticism

Professor Saikal and Dr Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute and ANU National Security College agree that the idea doesn’t attract much backing.

“There’s not much appetite among countries in the region for partition. Turkey’s not going to support it, Iran’s not going to support it, the Syrian government’s not going to support it and the Iraqi government’s not going to support it,” Dr Shanahan says.

Turkey is particularly opposed to the Kurds in northern Iraq (and Syria) having their own sovereign state on their southern border. The Turkish government has been engaged in conflict with their own Kurdish separatists and fear an independent Kurdistan would be an inspiration or set a precedent for them.

With their own Kurd minority, the Iranian government have similar concerns and also have close ties with the central government in Baghdad.

The idea of a partition also does not attract support from the majority of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis.

Really, it can only be found among the Iraqi Kurds, some Western politicians and Israel to an extent.

In the north of Iraq, the Kurds have always desired an independent state or, at the very least, extensive autonomy. In many ways, they have already achieved this.

The Israeli government have stated their support for an independent Kurdistan. They have close military and intelligence ties to the regional government and are happy to see Arab regimes weakened.

Bob Bowker, former Australian ambassador to Jordan, Egypt and Syria, says he has “deep reservations” about the partition even being on the table.

“I think there would be an effort of ethnic cleansing and also we would see militia-dominated rule emerge in these areas, probably dominated by Islamist elements whose rule would be highly regressive for women and minorities,” Dr Bowker told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“And there would be, therefore, attempts either to subdue elements of the population that were going to resist such control or those elements would be forced to leave.”

He said ethnic divisions are not clear enough to simply draw lines on a map because there are regions of overlap and diversity.

Even Joe Biden has admitted that sectarian cleansing is a concern of strengthening the regions of Iraq.

A full partition would also risk making states without oil fields economically unviable. Most of the oil falls into Shiite dominated regions, with very little in western Sunni areas.

It is widely argued that a full partition would entrench sectarian divisions in the area and immediately pit the new states against each other.

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Bookmarks: News and views from the book world

Pay up or else

杭州桑拿

British writers festivals that don’t pay authors for their appearances face a potential boycott by authors and publishers after Philip Pullman, the president of the country’s Society of Authors, resigned as patron (after being so for 20 years) of the Oxford Literary Festival because of its policy of not paying  his members. What’s more, the festival demands that writers do not appear on the same topic within 30 days or 40 miles of the festival. “That’s equivalent to saying ‘we’re not paying you, and we’re not letting you get paid anywhere else either …  Only the authors are expected to work for nothing. Many of us have had enough of that,” he said. Novelist and critic Amanda Craig wrote an open letter calling for the boycott that other writers such as Linda Grant, Francis Wheen, Joanne Harris  and Louisa Young have now signed. According to the Society of Authors, some literary festivals in Britain pay £150-£200 ($310-$414) per appearance. Its survey, which elicited responses from 17 of  22 festivals  contacted, showed that 12 festivals paid writers. David Day, chairman of the Australian Society of Authors, said in Australia it was common for some smaller literary festivals to get away with not paying guests. “We would like every time an author gets up to perform they get paid.” He said authors were facing a perfect storm, including the proposal to scrap parallel importation restrictions: “There is both commercial pressure and government pressure.”

Print and they will read

The number of printed books sold in Australia last year was pretty much the same as 2014 – 56.4 million copies – and that was due only to the impact of the adult-colouring book phenomenon, which when removed from the statistics resulted in a fall of 5.3 per cent. In the US, however, there was a 2.8 per cent rise in sales of print books following a 2.4 per cent increase the previous year. Last year saw sales of 653 million compared with 635 million the previous year and 620 million in 2013. The 2.1 per cent increase in sales of adult fiction was significant because, according to Publishers Weekly, it marks the first time since e-books started to play a significant part in the market that adult fiction that sales of print titles have increased.

Robotham in line for an Edgar

Michael Robotham has followed up winning  Britain’s Gold Dagger for best crime novel for Life or Death with a shortlisting for the same prize in this year’s Edgars, the US crime-writing awards. He was joined on the shortlist by Adrian McKinty, whose fourth novel in his Sean Duffy series, Gun Street Girl, was listed for best paperback original.

Colouring books go blank?

Talking of colouring books, in Britain’s Bookseller, a survey of predictions for the book industry this year includes this gem from Profile managing director Andrew Franklin: “I predict that the last adult colouring book will be sold on February 29, 2016. On March 1, mountains of unsold colouring books will be returned from bookshops and wholesalers all over the country for pulping.”

@jasonfsteger