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Friday 8 August 2008
Letters: The nature of modern sport
Olympics offer a time to rethink what we mean by sport
Hamish McRae (6 August) is right to ask if the Olympics can help give sport back to the people.
Given the phenomenal scale and apparent success of modern sport, it is tempting to see its current shape as inevitable and immutable. However, as the Beijing Olympics start, now might be a good time to challenge the nature of modern sport and to ask how we might want to help change it in time for London 2012.
What if, for example, sport could reclaim the word "amateur" to mean doing something out of love rather than doing something badly? If we want to get more people physically active more often to help tackle the obesity epidemic, then the best strategy might be promoting the joy of movement rather than the quest for medals.
Professor Andy Smith
York St John University
Hamish McRae rightly concludes that the success of the Olympics should be judged by the long-term effect they have on active participation in sport, and draws attention to the role of schools.
An injection of material backing for inspired individual teachers would help to achieve this. There are countless examples of teachers who have transformed young athletes' skills and competitive zeal, even without heavy financial support.
One teacher in the south-west created a tradition of cross-country running which saw his school carry off regional and national trophies, which in turn greatly enhanced the school's institutional morale. All for the cost of a few pairs of running shoes. And in Liverpool a lone teacher, again in his spare time, trained a nationally successful basketball team. How much more could these men have achieved with even a small slice of the financial backing now available?
Encouraging – and funding – teachers to share their sporting enthusiasms could start to impregnate society with real sporting ambition.
House price fall is long overdue
Over the last decade, house prices grew rapidly. Rises were fuelled by the willingness of banks to lend higher and higher multiples of buyers' incomes, and to offer loans which equalled or even exceeded property valuations. Meanwhile, many on high salaries in the financial services sector invested in buy-to-let houses, competing head-on with owner-occupiers. These are the main forces that drove prices to their current high levels. Prices, after all, are driven primarily by the availability of loans; larger loans mean higher prices.
If today's first-time buyers cannot afford asking prices then the diagnosis and the solution are simple. Prices are too high, and have to fall. Government may feel obliged to announce a "rescue plan to save property market" (6 August) but intervention carries the risk of artificially propping up house prices at unsustainable levels.
It is clearly in the banks' interests for high house prices to be maintained so as to lock in more and more people to longer and larger mortgages. House builders too will celebrate as their profitability is protected. But intervention is not in the interests of house-buyers, who will gain most benefit from a rapid fall in prices to affordable levels.
Most owner-occupiers have little to fear, for negative equity is of little consequence when you have a secure roof over your head. Speculators may lose a proportion of their investment, but that is a risk inherent in speculating. We are in a period, long overdue, of readjustment in the relationship between incomes and house prices, which will make property more affordable. Government intervention of the type reported may do the opposite.
So the Chancellor has drawn up a "rescue plan to save the property market". In heaven's name, why? The long recent downward correction in overinflated British house prices was overdue, and gave some hope to young people seeking to put a foot on the mortgage ladder.
Suppose there was a drop in food or clothing prices. Would the Government be expected to intervene in order to raise prices to their previous level to suit the interests of those who sell them? Accommodation is just as basic a necessity as these other items, yet we treat any reduction in its nominal value as a disaster.
I realise that the majority of householders are house-owners, but that does not excuse their greed at the expense of the less fortunate.
The immediate impact of the rumours of a possible stamp duty holiday, as flagged by the Chancellor himself, is that there is now firm anecdotal evidence of purchasers seeking to delay exchanging contracts on properties they are about to purchase, in the hope that they can take advantage of a future mitigation in stamp duty.
And who can blame them? We are talking thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of pounds. We are already seeing this starting to happen. The effect is to further slow up and depress what is left of the UK property market.
Whether the Government intends to take action or not, they now need to make an immediate statement of intent in order to provide clarity and leadership. Not do so will lead to further unnecessary misery for those desperately trying to move home now.
Managing Director, Team Conveyancing, Camberley Surrey
SATs remarking skews league tables
Anne Palmer (letter, 1 August) is just the latest to make the point that the fiasco over SATs marking this year provides a real opportunity to rethink the whole system of assessing pupil achievement and judging school performance. One thing is absolutely certain: this year's SATs league tables will have even less value than usual.
Schools have appealed against gradings in record numbers, according to your reports. The procedure for reviewing SATs scores is very clear. If a school believes that a paper has been incorrectly marked, resulting in a pupil being awarded an incorrect level for that subject, the school sends the paper back for re-marking, with a covering note identifying the question or questions that need to be looked at. The review will look only at the questions identified, it does not involve re-marking the whole paper.
If we accept that the mistakes in marking were the result of human error, it is likely that as many marks will have been incorrectly awarded as incorrectly withheld, but it's a fairly safe bet that very few, if any, of the record number of appeals will be from schools asking for their pupils' levels to be downgraded.
Disabled patients let down by NHS
We welcome the publication of Sir Jonathan Michael's report into access for healthcare for people with learning disabilities, and The Independent's coverage of it ("NHS castigated for fatal neglect of patients with learning disabilities", 30 July). This report, along with the others that went before it, presents indisputable evidence of the need for change in the NHS.
"Top to bottom" action will take time. But there are some recommendations that can and should be implemented immediately, such as directing primary care trusts to make the "reasonable adjustments" required under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and involving family and carers as a matter of course in people's care and treatment. We also need to see basic adherence to the DDA and the Mental Capacity Act being monitored.
As a social care provider working with some 1,200 people with learning disabilities, we have many instances of good practice, but also of where people have difficulty accessing treatment. We also see people being treated without respect or dignity, including, for example, a service user being administered an injection without being consulted or even being warned, something which we believe would not have happened if the person did not have a learning disability.
Some changes will inevitably take more time to implement, such as across-the-board training. But we urge the Government to act as swiftly as possible to ensure that people with learning disability are no longer invisible in the NHS.
Chief Executive, United Response, London SW15
UN's dealings with the Burmese junta
There are plenty of real issues to worry about in Myanmar. The Independent's editorial of 31 July misses these targets and contains several factual errors.
The editorial incorrectly states that the United Nations "calculates the exchange rate" in Myanmar and therefore lost $10m in relief aid for cyclone survivors. The UN does not "calculate" foreign exchange rates in its operations with any sovereign state, including Myanmar, but must abide by the foreign exchange regulations set by the government
Moreover, these government regulations, however complicated or unreasonable, cannot have "come as a shock to the many donors" as they have existed for many years and apply to donor operations as well as to international NGOs. Nevertheless, the way the rates operate has in recent months become highly unfavourable for the very small proportion of humanitarian aid spent in local currency. I have therefore pressed the government hard to improve the current system to ensure that all those who have contributed generously to the relief effort can rest assured that their resources are being fully used for the purposes intended.
Finally, contrary to assertions in the editorial, humanitarian access has improved dramatically since an agreement reached between the Myanmar Head of State and the UN Secretary-General in late May. Moreover, although an issue of legitimate concern, there is no significant evidence of cyclone aid being diverted or misappropriated.
Sir John Holmes
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, New York
Your leading article highlights the failure of the United Nations' softly-softly approach to the Burmese regime.
The Burma Campaign UK raised concerns with the UN about the regime using fixed exchange rates to steal aid back in 2006, but they downplayed it and took no action. For years we have also called on the UN to do more to challenge restrictions on aid that the regime has in place, but again no effective action was taken for fear of offending the generals.
Now that a large-scale disaster has struck, the people of Burma are paying the price for the UN's timidity. Aid delivery is still restricted and the generals are stealing millions of dollars by an exchange-rate scam – money that could have saved lives.
The failure is just as acute on the political front, with not a single political reform, despite 35 visits by UN envoys over the past 20 years. It is time the UN realised that when dealing with brutal killers, softly-softly just doesn't work.
Campaigns Officer, Burma Campaign UK, London N1
Pushed on to the line
How awful for the woman who was almost killed by being pushed on to a railway line, when all she was doing was asking someone not to smoke. However, the article (7 August) failed to say whether staff are on the duty at this station. If not, then might a staff presence have prevented it?
As a maths teacher, I read your front page on 5 August with a big sigh – 140,000 primary pupils "unable to reach the required standard in maths".
"Bashing us over the head again," I thought. But then on Page 7 you encourage parents to calculate their children's body mass index. In your example, you multiply 1.46m by 1.46m to get 2.1m. But this should be metres squared. If you multiply a length by a length you have to square the units too. Maybe those 140,000 primary pupils have parents who read The Independent?
While I share Christina Patterson's dislike of the widespread use of "cojones" among political enthusiasts (6 August), her use of the words "secondary male sex organs" was somewhat disturbing. I've always rather thought of mine as primary male sex organs – am I missing the important bits?
Crown and Parliament
Well done for solving the mystery of Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth (7 August). I trust Her Majesty does not mind her secret coming out. I read with interest also the listing of where to find royal statues in London, but noticed you omitted one very influential leader of our nation. Isn't there a statue of Oliver Cromwell in front of the Palace of Westminster? Perhaps the fourth plinth should be occupied eventually by an outstanding leader, parliamentarian and reformer? I will leave readers to decide who that might be.
Terence Hollingworth is quite wrong (letter, 7 August). "Soccer" is certainly not an American word. From the mid 19th century all public schools in England either played association football or rugby football. By the 1920s these two codes were known in the slang of that period as "soccer" and "rugger"'. (Another example of that formation is "wagger" for waste-paper basket). I agree that it is surprising that the Americans should have adopted English public school slang of the 1920s.
Fashions in jargon
I've been "stepping up to the plate" for many years. Peter Tallentire (letter, 7 August) seems to be behind the curve on this one.
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