Olympics, medicine and others

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Future Olympics should be staged in several countries at once

Future Olympics should be staged in several countries at once

Sir: The lack of interest in tickets for the Olympics in Athens due to fears over security ("Organisers admit only half of Athens tickets sold", 4 August) must surely point the International Olympic Committee to look at other ways of organising the Games.

The original purpose of the modern Olympics was to bring young people together from across the world in harmony and to halt conflict. More than 100 years since they started we will have only have 202 nations in Athens and about 10,000 athletes. There is now more and more pressure to restrict numbers and sports, while security costs are rocketing. We need to look at how we can best serve the original purpose at lower cost.

It seems to me that we should have a series of fixed locations, spread around the world, operating under the Olympic brand, and linked by television. To most viewers it matters little that an event is 10 miles, or a thousand miles away from a central stadium. Over the last few Olympics, those taking part have become less involved in the opening and closing ceremonies, which could still be staged wherever the athletics took place.

This would reduce the problems of security while allowing us to include more sports and have more people (and more countries) taking part, which would better serve the original purpose. It would also put an end to the costs and alleged corruption involved in the bidding for the games.

(Olympic canoe coach, 1984-96)
Fladbury, Worcestershire

Medical profession and work-life balance

Sir: The conclusion Professor Carol Black (interview, 2 August; letters, 5 August, etc) draws is extraordinary. Rather than facing the fact that the medical profession is quite unreasonable in demanding of most specialists that they abandon their spouses to bring up their children largely single-handed, she decides that a profession with many female practitioners must inevitably lose status and that the problem is too many women.

Medicine should be protecting the right of its practitioners, whether male or female, and their spouses and children to a family life; it should not be relying on the ruthlessness of its recruits and their willingness to place their families at the bottom of their list of priorities.

The profession would be greatly enriched and the public much better served if it counted in its ranks a majority of professionals, whether male or female, who had the empathy, selflessness and good sense to realise that a good work-home life balance is an essential, not a luxury.


Sir: At my medical school (UCL) in the 1970s there were only two female consultants, both unmarried. It seemed too much to expect that one could have a successful medical career and a family life.

Things have changed. Many women doctors are combining a successful medical career with a family. I am a professor of paediatric gastro enterology with two medical student daughters. My husband and I shared child care. I want to see more flexible training and a better work-life balance. It is not genetic that "women are much more likely to opt for the less- pressured and lower-status specialities". A good opt-out line for the medical hierarchy, but is that the under- lying reason? I think not.

Professor Black has not experienced discrimination. I vividly recall being asked why I was applying for a senior registrar post when I had a baby to look after. Students in my daughter's year were recently told by a consultant that they could not expect to be teaching hospital consultants and professors and have a family. I took delight in my daughter's robust challenge of that view.

We need to address the real issue, that of equity in a modern Britain.

Professor BHU SANDHU
Executive Member Medical Women's Federation

Learning languages

Sir: It takes a long time to learn a language, and this cannot happen in the classroom alone ("Monolingual Brits miss out on European Study", 6 August). What this country really needs is more general exposure to other languages, particularly through television.

Why is it that whenever a foreign person speaks on television his or her voice is dubbed with English? Why can't we just have subtitles? This would seem the obvious thing to do if it is a language which many of us are supposed to have learnt in school. And why are we unable to receive European television even if we live on the south coast?

The sad fact is that we are restricted to whatever languages we learn in school, and these are quickly forgotten because we have no exposure to them in this country after we leave full-time education. In other parts of Europe people are motivated to learn English not because it is taught better in school than we teach languages here (though I agree that we need to start such teaching earlier), but because they have exposure to it in their everyday lives. Packages in shops, pop song lyrics, the availability of English newspapers and magazines, films and television - all make English a real experience rather than a "foreign" language.

Hastings, East Sussex

Price of education

Sir: The Labour Government and the Conservative Opposition seem unable to make the connection between supporting higher education and a successful economy. It is not surprising that students, saddled with massive debts, move abroad. Many students with firsts in maths, science, business management and even the arts are seeking jobs in the city, just so they can earn a living that will help them to become financially solvent.

My son has a first in maths, a job with a prestigous firm in London, a debt of £12,000, a flat with a deposit required of £1,500 - and a burning desire to leave the country as soon as possible. And he is one of the fortunate ones who had financially supportive parents.

This Government needs to do some serious thinking if the UK is to not to become the poor man of Europe.

(Lib Dem PPC, Wansdyke)
Radstock, Somerset

Small but strong

Sir: Steve Richards' assertion that stronger, smaller parties make for weaker democracy is illogical ("Don't be fooled by the rise of these small parties with their simplistic solutions", 5 August).

On the contrary, it is strong major parties which most threaten liberal inclusion and mass participation in elections. Democrats can only hope for weak governments which are unable to steamroller through unpopular laws and embark on illegal wars.

People who vote for the minor parties do so because we cannot bring ourselves to support the tyrannical two, whose misrule has plagued our country for a century with gross incompetence, hypocrisy, corruption and personality cults.

London E7

Interest rate rise

Sir: Why am I not at all surprised at estate agents' indignation at the latest interest-rate hike? ("Industry calls for halt to further interest rate rises", Business, 6 August).

As the majority of estate agents' fees are based on the percentage of a property's value, it is very much to their advantage for property prices to remain as high as possible - hence their calls for halting the rise in interest rates. Estate agents don't want to see property prices slowing down, grinding to a halt, or - heaven forbid - actually going down.

The Bank of England is entirely right to have raised interest rates this month, and should have perhaps raised them by half a percentage point, to make consumers sit up and take notice. Something has to be done to bring these unfair and unsustainable prices down. One of the most basic human requirements is a roof over the head. I don't have ambitions to live on the top rung of the property ladder, but is it asking too much to even have a chance at grasping the bottom rung?

Steyning, West Sussex

Curry house visas

Sir: The basic argument for granting special visas to Bangladeshis to work in Indian restaurants is a racist one (leading article, 7 August). Why should "British curry", which in any case originates in Birmingham not Bangladesh, only be served by brown people? Must waiters also come with a foreign accent and subservient manner?

You seem to argue that when an employer has difficulty finding staff it is better for them to seek out people of a specific ethnicity rather than employing local people for a fair wage. Doubtless restaurateurs will not like increasing wages, but if demand is high that is what a fair employment market requires, not simply an influx of cheap labour.

When most businesses are pursuing equal opportunities policies, it is deeply unfair and divisive that certain areas of the economy remain islands of racist nepotism. A shocking degree of segregation in employment and housing already exists. We cannot imagine a better way to perpetuate this than ensuring that low-paid work is reserved for new immigrants.



Legacy of bullying

Sir: After all this time, it is saddening to see the problems of bullying running on unchecked (letters, 6 August). Almost 40 years ago, as a boy of 10, I was subjected to persistent bullying at a new school. The problem became so intolerable that I was packed off to the child psychiatrist to find out what was wrong with me and why I was causing the bullies to target me. Of course, this had no effect on the bullies or the bullying. But there was one positive outcome for me: the psychiatrist's IQ tests revealed that I had the highest IQ he had ever measured. Here was something of my very own that could not be spoiled or taken away by the bullies, and it was a great impetus to me.

Twenty years later I had earned a PhD. But I still have the deep and intractable depression that the bullying caused. I cannot use my intellectual and academic skills to earn myself an income, but live at the state's expense on benefits, isolated at home with my books and strange interests, keeping myself quietly and irrelevantly away from a society I cannot cope with.

London WC1

Inclusive education

Sir: The "party of parental choice" has decided that parents of disabled children might not be worthy of mainstream schools ("Tories may educate disabled children in separate schools", 6 August). My daughter has flourished in an inclusive environment. For practical reasons, partly due to funding, partly due to training, not every parent of a disabled child would make the same claim. I respect their views while disagreeing with special schools as an answer. Inclusion must mean just that. However, it would seem the Tories' education plans see the disabled as children of a lesser God.

London SE4

Killings at Najaf

Sir: Was it really the "battle of Najaf" (report, 7 August), when hundreds died on one side against three American soldiers on the other? The truth is it was a massacre. And how many of those killed were women and children, and how many more were maimed?

Once again the Iraqi people are called insurgents when they resist a brutal military occupation.

Malahide, Co Dublin

Aircraft carriers

Sir: John Lichfield put forward a suggestion for the naming of British and French aircraft carriers - HMS Redoubtable and Le Victory, respectively (Review, 27 July). Redoubtable would be named after the ship whose sharpshooter killed Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar.

There have, in fact, been at least two Redoubtables in the Royal Navy. One was a 74-gun ship launched by Woolwich Dockyard on 29 December 1806, barely a year after the death of Nelson. Another was an elderly battleship which was renamed in 1915 to release its original name for a new ship being built. Its original name was Revenge.

Plus ca change!


Planning guidance

Sir: I was appalled by the Government's new planning guidance (report, 4 August). Most modern buildings are ugly, including the Grafton Hall mansion in your article. What is wrong with a pastiche of historical styles if those original styles were good ones?

The Victorians were great builders in historical styles, both Gothic and classical, and they left Britain with some of its finest architecture.




Just jesting

Sir: English Heritage is to be congratulated on restoring the role of jester (report, 6 August). I trust it already has contingency plans for appointing a Lord Chancellor when the present Cromwellian government abolishes that ancient office. Does the name Irvine spring to mind?

Tonbridge, Kent

Sir: Is this is a covert attempt to recruit an assistant to the deputy prime minister? On the other hand, he fills the role admirably as it is.

Sittingbourne, Kent

Sir: Your leading article's suggestion that one of the FA's bigwigs might qualify for the revived post of court jester is quite wrong. It takes talent and training to be a fool or a clown; anybody can be a prat.