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Sporting Spirit in Brazil, World Cup 2014

Brazilian fans beat the drums in Rio - photo copyright Hannah Smithson

Brazilian fans beat the drums in Rio – photo copyright Hannah Smithson

The excitement and buzz in the air on the streets of Rio when Brazil beat Cameroon 4-1 was immense. Now, after being pulled apart in the semi-finals against Germany, with an unbelievable score of 7-1, what would the atmosphere in the host country be like?

Initially, the football and 2014 World Cup hadn’t been the reason I’d booked my holiday to Brazil, but it soon became a big part of why I’d visit this amazing country again. The spirit of the people and the culture is infectious. But just as they are elated and joyful on a win, so too can they be ‘humiliated, humbled and torn apart’, as one BBC commentator put it after Germany scored their fifth goal before half time!

During the tournament in Brazil, when they were still very much in the game, that South American passion for the sport shone through; boys were playing with their fathers in their back yards, girls were giving football a go and tourists were joining in spontaneous games with locals, striking up conversation and camaraderie. That might be why there were so many tears in Belo Horizonte last night. Victory meant more to them than just winning –  football had become an escape from poverty and a means of bringing a mammoth nation together, despite adversity and dissent.

And, perhaps the best thing Brazil can take away from such a big blow, is that, the game has attracted the world to a country which has yes, learnt humility on their home turf, but their football team has also represented a nation which was so alive with hope and excitement only days ago, and which now must reflect on the lessons to be learnt from such a defeat. Brazil should not be punished now, but should find resolve in its spirit. Don’t we all suffer massive defeats in life? And often there is always a lesson to be learnt?

There would be little victory in picking apart the mistakes of the players and coaches or reasoning a shocking scoreline down to missing men. True, Brazilian striker Neymar is received as a God-like figure in Brazil; the youthful footballer will probably remain a national boy wonder and Thiago Silva will still have his face graffitied all over the streets of Rio, and remain a national treasure, but my heart goes out to the other 11 men who had to battle through an overwhelming 90 minutes of shear pain and frustration – most of whom looked shell-shocked as they walked off the pitch deflated and desolated.

Despite disappointment that the hosts are now out, there remains something about the beauty of the game, the competition, the uniting of nations that was utterly attractive and soulful during the tournament, and I got the feeling that Brazil was just as spirited and colourful World Cup or no World Cup. I’ll probably remember the devastating score and loss for Brazil whenever anyone mentions the 2014 World Cup in years to come, but I’ll never forget the mental pictures stored away in my mind of their victorious celebrations after their match against Cameroon.

A sea of green, blue and yellow t-shirts displayed the Brazilian flag colours, as patriotic fans flocked to Copacabana beach to watch the epic game on the big screen. Strolling along, I couldn’t get Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’ tune out of my head, as we zigzagged through the throng of party-goers attempting to find a free spot amongst the crowd. The sport had attracted thousands of fans to the waters edge to watch the teams battle it out. And, after a fighting fit Neymar, scored his first goal, the ocean of spectators went wild! Usually concerned with more feminine practices of yoga and meditation, my mind turned to the simple yet fascinating play of football and the thrilling match that was unfolding before my eyes. Fireworks lit the sky in the distance, the beating of drums sounded a base through the streets and the smell of the warm sweet sea air infused the senses. It dawned on me then, that Brazil, victorious or not, had heart and that would continue long after the game ended.

Beaten by the World Cup champions but not defeated in spirit!

Check out Rio in Rio documentary on Monday 10:35pm www.bbc.co.uk/

Osborne to announce £2.5bn spending cuts today

Chancellor George Osborne to deliver UK 2013 Budget Photo Credit: conservativeparty via Compfight cc

Chancellor George Osborne to deliver UK 2013 Budget Photo Credit: conservativeparty via Compfight cc

Chancellor, George Osborne, will today set out how he will make cuts of £2.5bn to benefit the UK economy, when he delivers his Budget at 12:30 GMT.

The chancellor has told cabinet colleagues that they will have to cut 2% of their departments’ spending over the next two years, saving billions of pounds.

The money will go to infrastructure and building projects, designed to boost growth and create jobs.

The UK economy had shown a rise after the 2012 London Olympics but then shrank in the last quarter of the year, losing it’s triple A credit rating.

The government has been under increasing pressure since over its economic strategy.

Mr Osborne will start speaking in the House of Commons straight after the half hour Prime Minister’s Questions, which starts at noon.

In a message on the micro-blogging website Twitter, Mr Osborne said the Budget would “tackle the economy’s problems head on” and help “those who want to work hard & get on”.

Health, schools and aid protected

The budgets for health, schools and overseas aid will be unaffected by the cuts while local government and police budgets will be protected for the first year. But, other government departments will be told to deliver a further 1% cut to their day-to-day budgets in both 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The move has been made possible by under-spending by government departments this year.

As well as additional cuts, Mr Osborne is also expected to set out the “spending envelope” – the total amount of spending available to departments – in the forthcoming Spending Review, which will take place on 26 June.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dies

The Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has died at the age of 58.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez dies age 58 Photo Credit: ¡Que comunismo! via Compfight cc
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez dies age 58 Photo Credit: ¡Que comunismo! via Compfight cc

After 14 years in office, Mr. Chavez lost his battle with cancer. The  illness prevented him from taking the oath of office after he was re-elected for a fourth term in October.

Mr. Chavez was a controversial figure and self-proclaimed revolutionary who was critical of the US and inspired a left wing movement across Latin America.

Crowds of mourners gathered outside the Caracas hospital in the capital where he led his final battle for life. Supporters chanted “We are all Chavez”, “Chavez lives”.

Following his death, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro will assume the presidency until an election is held within 30 days.

In Tuesday’s televised address, a tearful Mr Maduro said the president had passed away “after battling a tough illness for nearly two years”.

“We have received the toughest and tragic information that… Comandante President Hugo Chavez died today at 16:25 (20:55 GMT),” he added.

Mr Maduro called on the nation to close ranks after its leader’s demise.

“Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love.”

Hugo Chavez, a former paratrooper, burst onto Venezuela’s national stage in 1992 when he led a failed military coup.

After two years in prison he returned to politics and was swept to power in a 1998 election.

He won enduring support among the poor and repeated election victories by using Venezuela’s oil wealth to pursue socialist policies.

But his opponents accused him of mishandling the economy and taking the country towards dictatorship.

The vice-president spoke soon after Mr Chavez’s death of a plot against Venezuela. He said had no doubt that the president’s fight with cancer, first diagnosed in 2011, had been induced by foul play by Venezuela’s enemies – the US promptly rejected the accusations as “absurd”.

A statement by the military issued after Mr Chavez’s death said it would protect the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country. It would remain loyal to the vice-president and to parliament, it added, urging people to remain calm.

Seven days of national mourning have been declared and his body will lie in state until a funeral on Friday.

 

New policy for police in how to deal with child abuse

There will be an overhaul of how police and prosecutors deal with alleged sexual offences against children  in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Photo Credit: Tjook via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Tjook via Compfight cc

New guidelines for police and prosecutors in England and Wales will be drawn up, and a panel will review cases where alleged perpetrators were not charged, it is expected to be announced.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer told the BBC there was an “overcautious” approach with victims.

He said the focus was too much on whether the victim was telling the truth and not enough on the suspect.

“I am not advocating the test for prosecution should change,” he said.

Describing this as a “watershed moment,” Mr Starmer said we need to “clear the decks of a raft of existing guidelines”.

Once the new guidance has been written, training will also be offered to police and prosecutors dealing with child exploitation cases.

Learning from past mistakes

Policies towards child abuse cases are changing since the Savilles scandal Photo Credit: Ben Cooper via Compfight cc
Policies towards child abuse cases are changing since the Savilles scandal Photo Credit: Ben Cooper via Compfight cc

A review into allegations against the late DJ and TV presenter Jimmy Saville, found he had carried out more than 200 sexual offences over a 54-year period.

Allegations were reported to police several times while he was alive but no action was taken against him.

New policies are expected to prevent such mistakes from happening in future.

Pope thanks final audience at Vatican

Thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican for Pope Benedict’s final general audience.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke to a crowd of thousands cheering him in St Peter’s square, thanking them from the bottom of his heart for coming out to see him. He admitted he faced “choppy waters” during his eight years at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church, but says he was guided by God and felt his presence every day.

“I feel I need to thank God who guides the church and feeds faith. Right now my soul is open to embrace the entire church and I’d like to thank everybody for the help I have received”.

The 85 year old will retire tomorrow and will be the first pope to abdicate since Gregory XII in 1415. His successor will be chosen in a conclave to take place in March, before Holy Week in the lead up to Easter.

Pope Benedict told the crowd his papacy had been “a heavy burden” but he accepted it because he was sure that God would guide him.

At times he said he felt like “St Peter with his apostles on the Lake of Galilee”, making reference to the Biblical story when the disciples were battling against heavy waves and Jesus Christ appeared to them.

The surprise announcement of his abdication, that shocked Catholics around the world, has required the rules of electing a successor to be changed to allow the next pope to be chosen.

“I took this step [resignation] in full awareness of its gravity and novelty but with profound serenity of spirit,” he said in his address.

After Benedict XVI steps down, he will become known as “pope emeritus”.

Party leaders hail gay marriage vote

Prime Minister David Cameron and party leaders at Westminster have praised the significance of the backing for same-sex marriage in England and Wales after a key Commons vote.

Party leaders hail gay marriage vote Photo courtesy of Photo Credit: CarbonNYC via Compfight cc
Party leaders hail gay marriage vote Photo Credit: CarbonNYC via Compfight cc

Cameron said the vote on Tuesday had been “an important step forward” and Labour leader Ed Miliband called it a “proud day”.

MPs voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.

Voting lists show that 136 Conservatives – almost half of the party’s MPs – opposed the bill.

This figure included two cabinet ministers – Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Welsh Secretary David Jones – eight junior ministers, and eight whips.

MPs were given a free vote on the bill, meaning they were not ordered to vote a particular way by party whips.

Their decision to back the bill is a milestone for gay couples all over the country. The legislation will now receive more detailed parliamentary scrutiny.

If it becomes law, the bill will enable same-sex couples, who are currently able to engage in civil partnerships, to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies -with the consent of religious institutions.

Tuesday’s vote was a big moment but it has got further stages to pass in the parliamentary process.

Some think the vote has challenged David Cameron’s authority leaving disaffected tory members in his party, possibly weakening his leadership but the Prime Minister has openly admitted that he thinks marriage should be open to all and defines the passing of the gay marriage bill as a defining moment in his modernising mission.

Doctor Who drama casts Harry Potter actor

By Hannah Smithson

Harry Potter actor David Bradley will play “first Doctor” William Hartnell in a BBC drama about Doctor Who’s creation to mark its 50th anniversary.

Harry Pottor actor David Bradley is cast in new BBC Doctor Who drama
Harry Pottor actor David Bradley is cast in new BBC Doctor Who drama

The adventure story will journey the BBC‘s sci-fi drama, beginning in the early 1960s.

Bradley, known for his role as Filch in the Harry Potter series, said he was “absolutely thrilled” to be cast.

Filming will begin in February at BBC Television Centre, then move to Wimbledon Studios in south-west London.

The script has been written by Mark Gatiss, a regular Doctor Who writer who, like Bradley, has been seen in the show since its 2005 revival.

“I first heard about this role from Mark while watching the Diamond Jubilee flotilla from the roof of the National Theatre,” said Bradley, who played the character of Solomon in 2012 episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

“When he asked if I would interested, I almost bit his hand off! Mark has written such a wonderful script not only about the birth of a cultural phenomenon, but a moment in television’s history.”

Peace Envoy warns UN of horror in Syria

Peace Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has warned the UN security council that the conflict in Syria has reached new “unprecedented levels of horror”.

The UN-Arab League envoy was speaking hours after evidence emerged of a fresh massacre in the northern city of Aleppo.

At least 71 people were killed in the recent massacre in the city of Aleppo, Syria

Reports of at least 71 bodies were found by a river in the western Bustan al-Qasr district, opposition activists said.

Mr Brahimi has been trying to find a solution to the crisis based on a peace plan approved at an international conference in June 2012 but has said the UN security council cannot continue to be in disagreement and wait but must act now.

The UN says the conflict has left more than 60,000 people dead.

“The country is breaking up before everyone’s eyes. Only the international community can help, and first and foremost the Security Council,”  Mr Brahimi told a closed meeting of the 15-member council, according to diplomats.

“The region is being pushed into a situation that is extremely bad,” he said.

Horrifying massacre

Activists posted video footage of the massacre in Aleppo on YouTube, showing a large number of bodies strewn in and around the banks of the Quwaiq river.

The government and opposition have blamed each other for the killings.

The UN Security Council has been divided over Syria for months. The US, UK, France and other Western powers have pushed for resolutions that threaten sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

However, Russia and China have vetoed resolutions three times. Moscow – a close ally of Syria – also refuses to back calls for Mr Assad to step down.

Gordon Brown blogs for young women at WEF

Gordon Brown blogs live from the WEF about young womens empowerment being the hot topic for 2013 Photo courtesy of WEF

Gordon Brown blogs live from the WEF about young womens empowerment being the hot topic for 2013 Photo courtesy of WEF

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is blogging about the hot topic of 2013- looking at the growing global empowerment of young women from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos:

See link for his post from the Huffington Post

He said: “The rights of girls is becoming the hot topic of the 2013, as a new movement of empowered young women discovers that it has the momentum to force big issues — girls’ health, girls’ education and the protection of girls against violence — to the centre of the global agenda.”

The pressure that has come from anti-rape marches, which have dominated the early days of the year in India and have spread to other countries, will not dissipate in the next few weeks. Indeed it will be stepped up, with Valentine’s Day demonstrations around the world on February 14, when the online campaign group One Billion Rising plans what it calls a mixture of ‘a global strike, an invitation to dance, an act of solidarity with women and a refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given’.

Girls’ rights will be the focus of the 10×10 Initiative when, on International Women’s Day (March 8), award-winning journalists and film-makers will expose in the new documentary ‘Girl Rising’ just how unfair the distribution of educational opportunities is for so many millions of girls around the world. The new film will give added impetus to long-running campaigns such as Plan International’s Because I Am A Girl, whose aim is to give four million girls around the world the chance to gain the education that can help them to break out of the cycle of poverty.

In the wake of the shooting last year of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, discrimination against girls — 32 million of whom are denied the chance to go to school — will be the theme of a special event during the United Nations General Assembly in September. Ahead of that, getting girls to school in targeted countries will be a top agenda item in a summit on April 18-19 in Washington, to be attended by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank, in advance of the IMF/World Bank spring meetings. During that week, we will also focus on ways to ban child marriage and child labour, and outlaw the prejudice that prevents girls going to school.

The rights of girls is moving to the top of the global issues agenda because young women are saying with rising resolve that they will no longer accept the rules and conventions imposed upon them by a male-dominated adult population.

Indeed, I see in recent protests a real shift. Demonstrations that started as cautious, often gentle, admonitions to the powers that be, with respectful requests for change, have now come to encompass a set of defiant, non-negotiable demands in the form of ultimatums — and rightly so. Protests that once were pleas to ‘please stop this’ have become protests that insist ‘no more and never again’.”

Stay up to date by signing up at www.educationenvoy.org.

Follow Gordon Brown on Twitter: www.twitter.com/officegsbrown

Two killed after bad weather batters Britain

Hundreds of homes have been flooded after storms hit parts of England and Wales, the Environment Agency has said.

It confirmed that 816 houses have been affected after storm weather swept across the country.

A woman has been killed by a falling tree in Exeter when flooding and high winds hit the South West of England on Saturday night and a 70-year-old man died after his car crashed into a swollen river in Cambridgeshire.
Flooding in some parts of Britain have caused two deaths this weekend Photo courtesy of Xerone on Flickr
Two severe flood warnings remain in place for parts of Cornwall, although the situation is said to be improving.

 

There are more than 200 other flood warnings in place across England  including Malmesbury in Wiltshire and Kempsey in Worcestershire

 

The M25 is closed clockwise at the QE2 bridge in Kent because of high winds, and parts of the M50 of Gloucestershire are closed because of flooding.

 

David Cameron said on Twitter there were “shocking scenes of flooding in Cornwall and around the country”.

 

The prime minister’s tweet also said the government “will help ensure everything is being done to help”.