Mental approach key for Boks against Italy, says De Villiers

They improved on that with a 31-28 success over England last time out and De Villiers wants to ensure they keep their intensity high against what is on paper inferior opposition.

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“It’s been a pretty tough week of training, the main message throughout is that we need to pitch up mentally,” De Villiers told reporters on Friday.

“The big difference between the Ireland and England games was exactly that — the mental preparation and the focus going into those games. We are very aware of it.”

De Villiers expects Italy to be fired-up, having lost all their previous 11 meetings with the Boks, and says starting well with points on the board could quell the home side’s early passion.

“We must make sure our reaction time is that half-second better than theirs, as it was against England and wasn’t against Ireland. We have to start well, play in the right areas and make sure that we get in front because as soon as they get a sniff it becomes a very long day.”

The Boks have received yellow cards in both their tour matches and De Villiers says they will do all they can to stay on the right side of French referee Jerome Garces.

“Our discipline is important, the previous two weeks getting yellow cards put us in tough situations,” he said.

“Even though I think we are pretty good with understanding what the referee wants and adapting to him, it’s those one or two situations that could cost you a game. We need to sharpen up on that.”

De Villiers is also looking for more precision from the side as an attacking unit.

“We had opportunities last weekend that we didn’t finish off and certainly there will be opportunities this week. It’s making sure you don’t go chasing the game from the very first minute, but get the structures right and capitalise on that.”

(Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Toby Davis)

Qatar should stage World Cup only if exploitation stops – Champagne

The Frenchman said that FIFA’s capability to govern the sport could be threatened by the continuing controversy over the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments and that “sanctity of the World Cup” was also at stake

He also repeated his call for FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia’s report into the bidding process for the tournaments awarded to Russia and Qatar, to be published in full.

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The findings were summarised in a 42-page statement published by FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert last week, which Garcia himself complained included misrepresentations. FIFA has said it cannot be publish the full report for legal reasons.

“It’s great to take the World Cup to an Arab country because Morocco bid four times, Egypt twice. If nothing has happened, we go to Qatar,” said Champagne.

“But we cannot go to Qatar if we don’t solve the issue of the exploitation of the workers, which means that the companies from the rest of the world have to be subject to strict regulations based on what has been said by Amnesty International and ITUC (the International Trade Union Conference).

“We have a network of exploitation of poverty which starts in the countryside of India and the valleys of Nepal,” he said. “The World Cup is a celebration. Imagine if we have this celebration knowing it has been on the exploitation of poverty.”

Qatar has been widely criticised over its treatment of migrant workers in the construction industry and says it is working to address the problem.

Although formal investigations have been started against some unidentified people mentioned in Garcia’s report, Eckert’s statement said there was not enough evidence to suggest that the bidding process needed to be re-opened.

“It seems that the very integrity of the vote is tainted, so we need to see what happened. We need to know, to protect the World Cup,” said Champagne.

“We need to rebuild FIFA’s image and I personally regret what happened last week because it has not helped at all.

“We still have time but we need to know what is inside Mr Garcia’s report, his findings, his recommendations as well as other things.”

Champagne was FIFA’s Deputy Secretary General between 2002 and 2005, he worked on special projects between 2005 and 2007 and was Director of International Relations from 2007 until he left FIFA in 2010.

He said that FIFA needed structural reforms to make it more democratic and transparent for the future, but said it was wrong to blame soccer’s governing body for everything.

“I will not join the chorus of people saying they should walk away from FIFA, wash it all away,” he said. “FIFA gets blamed for everything.”

“In Spain, when a player comes back to his club in after an international match, either injured or tired, the media call that the ‘FIFA virus’.

“But who is inflating the format of the qualifying competitions? Not FIFA. Who is creating new competitions which saturate the international calendar? Not FIFA.”

He added: “I’m proud of the years I spent in FIFA because of all the things we achieved, but we could do so much more. We could govern it so much better if we adopt the changes we need.

“Basically, FIFA has to enter the 21st century. The way it functions is still a well-made system but designed to function as it was in the 1970s and 1980s.”

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

Advantage Hamilton in Abu Dhabi practice

The Briton, chasing his second title, was quickest in the afternoon and after-dark floodlit sessions at the glittering Yas Marina circuit that hosts Sunday’s decisive ‘duel in the desert’.

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The bragging rights were limited, however, by the slender margin between the two with Hamilton 0.133 faster in the first session and a mere 0.083 in the cooler evening conditions.

He produced his best lap of one minute 42.113 after nightfall.

“I’ve just got to drive the way I usually do and what will be will be,” said Hamilton. “I feel good in the car. Undoubtedly, there is more time to find so I’ve got to go and chip away at it tonight.”

The other drivers waged a familiar battle to be best of the also-rans, but with an even greater gap than usual.

Spaniard Fernando Alonso, preparing for his last race with Ferrari, was third quickest in the opening session but a massive 1.7 seconds off Hamilton’s pace.

Hamilton leads Rosberg by 17 points but, with double on offer for the first time, the spectre of mechanical failure hangs over Sunday’s race.

The 2008 champion need only finish second, however, to be champion even if Rosberg wins.

Mercedes are also on course for a record 16 wins in a season, having already notched up an unprecedented 11 one-twos.

McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen filled third spot in the second session, when Alonso stopped on track without setting a time, but was still 0.782 off the pace

Quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, last year’s race winner, was fourth fastest in both sessions as he geared up for a farewell to Red Bull before replacing Alonso at Ferrari.

Britain’s Jenson Button, maybe facing his last race in Formula One, improved to eighth for McLaren after a troubled first session.

Mercedes-powered Williams, who stopped their cars in the first session after they shed bodywork on track, had a normal second stint with Finland’s Valtteri Botttas fifth.

The first session also saw some less familiar names in action, with Britain’s Will Stevens slowest as he prepared for a race debut with administrator-run Caterham.

Hong Kong Chinese racer Adderley Fong gained some experience at Sauber.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

Phelps claims historic eighth gold

Michael Phelps has cemented his place in Olympics history, capping a sensational week by becoming the first athlete ever to win eight gold medals in one Games.

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Phelps brought the curtain down on a record-breaking week of swimming when he directed the US team to victory in the 4x100m medley relay and overtook fellow US legend Mark Spitz\’s seven gold medals at Munich 36 years ago.

The 23-year-old Phelps also broke seven world records through the week and became the most successful Olympian of all time with a career 14 gold medals.

“I\’m lost for words,” he said.

“The whole thing, every race, one after the other from winning by one-hundrerdth of a second to finishing if off with a world record. It\’s an amazing experience,” he added, crediting the relay team for making it possible.

His butterfly leg was key to the relay victory, as he turned a third-place behind Japan and Australia at the halfway point into a lead which freestylist Jason Lezak would never surrender.

Daily superhuman performances saw Phelps constantly command centre stage in Beijing, although late Saturday the headlines switched to Jamaican Usain Bolt who became the fastest man on earth winning the 100m final in world record time.

China continue to dominate the medal table with 28 gold ahead of 17 for the United States and Germany on nine.

Romanian mother of two Constantina Tomescu launched the Olympics busiest day Sunday when she raced away with the women\’s marathon in a time of 2hours 26minutes 44seconds.

There are 37 finals Sunday, five more in athletics including the womens 100m and men\’s 10,000m, as well tennis, badminton, cycling, diving, fencing, gymnastics, rowing, yachting, shooting, table tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.

The men\’s 10,000m final shapes as an Ethiopian clean sweep with Kenenisa Bekele looking to defend his title from former champion Haile Gebrselassie and Sileshi Sihine, the silver medallist in Athens.

Kerron Stewart looked likely for a Jamaican sprint double with Bolt, leading the favourites after the heats of the women\’s 100m.

In the pool the US relay team took more than 1.3sec off the previous world record while Australia clipped more than three seconds off the women\’s 4x100m relay record.

But for Australian Grant Hackett, his dream of an historic three 1500m freestyle golds at consecutive Olympics was snapped by Tunisia\’s Oussama Mellouli who, after nearly 15 minutes of racing, finished a mere 0.49sec ahead.

Incoming world tennis number one Rafael Nadal of Spain goes centre court when he plays Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in the men\’s singles final.

The women\’s final is an all-Russian affair between Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina.

There are seven rowing finals including the women\’s eight where Romanian rower Georgeta Andrunache is on the brink of history as the sport\’s most successful Olympian.

She won the women\’s pairs with Viorica Susanu on Saturday for a fifth career gold, level with rowing legends Steve Redgrave and Elisabeta Lipa, and another victory will give her sole rights to the record.

British cyclist Rebecca Romero is also assured a place in women\’s history for winning medals in two different sports.

A rowing silver medallist in Athens four years ago, Romero rides off in the final of the women\’s individual pursuit Sunday.

The only other sports double was achieved by American Tim Shaw who won a swimming silver in 1976 and a water polo silver in 1984.

Qiu Jian further advanced China on the medal table when he won the men\’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions shooting gold after American Matthew Emmons cracked on the final shot, blowing a strong lead to finish fourth.

Phelps swims into Olympics medal history

With the victory, Phelps overtook compatriot Mark Spitz, whose seven swimming golds at Munich in 1972 were the most at a single Games.

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At 23, and competing in his third Olympics, Phelps took his total of Olympic titles to 14, including six from Athens, where he also claimed two bronze.

The US squad of Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Phelps and Jason Lezak won a tight race in 3:29.34, Lezak holding off Australian individual world record-holder Eamon Sullivan on the closing freestyle leg.

The United States were lying third when Phelps hit the water for the penultimate butterfly leg. He had given the US a narrow lead by the time he handed over to Lezak.

“I don’t know what to feel right now, there are so many emotions going through my head and so much excitement, I guess I just want to see my mom,” Phelps said.

The Americans improved on the previous world record of 3:30.68, while Australia finished second in 3:30.04 and Japan took the bronze in 3:31.18.

“It’s a beautiful thing, I am so proud to be a part of this relay team,” Peirsol said.

“It wasn’t like we were doing this for Michael, but it’s an honour to be part of it. It would have been something if we hadn’t done it.

“Sullivan came back at the end, but I think at the end of a long competition we are all a little tired right now.”

Indeed when the much anticipated moment came, there was no scream of triumph, no fist-pounding gesture of victory from Phelps, who was hugged by his teammates and shook hands with his rivals before calmly raising his arms toward the crowd and drawing a roar from the Water Cube fans.

Farmers welcome Pacific guest worker program

Allowing Pacific Islanders to take part in a three-year pilot seasonal workers' scheme will help address Australia's dire rural labour shortage, a Victorian horticulturist says.

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Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke announced on Sunday that visas will be available to 2,500 workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to work in Australia's horticulture sector for up to seven months in any 12-month period.

The guest workers would be sent to help pick fruit and vegetable harvests and would be filling a “chronic labour shortage” in parts of Australia.

The first group will arrive later this year, with the program to be reviewed in 18 months.

Initial regions being considered for the scheme include Swan Hill in Victoria and Griffith in NSW, with labour market surveys being conducted in other regions.

Ron Stanton, who runs a horticulture training school and stone fruit orchard in Swan Hill says the scheme is “very, very important” for the sector.

“The industry has struggled badly with both skilled workers, but more particularly people to do the harvest,” he told ABC Radio today.

“There is no question that there is a dire shortage.”

Extra hands would ensure fruit could be taken off vines and tress when ripe, instead of being left to rot as was the case now with a shortage of pickers.

World Bank backing

The scheme also has the backing of World Bank senior economist Dr Manjula Luthria, an expert in Pacific labour mobility.

“It's such a dramatic announcement for the Pacific workers who have been looking for work for generations,” she told ABC Radio.

Pacific Islanders often struggled to find employment in their small, remote economies.

“The situation can be quite dire in terms of unemployment.

“It's (the scheme's) really a chance to go from being nearly unviable to being economically prosperous.”

A similar scheme in New Zealand had transformed many Pacific Island communities, Dr Luthria said.

“There are workers coming back … with roughly about five or six thousand New Zealand dollars.”

They use the money to fix up homes, transform local schools, bring water into communities and provide better access to health.

Workers also brought back basic agricultural knowledge and skills.

It was unlikely workers would overstay their visas if there was a likelihood of returning the following year for more work, Dr Luthria said.

“What this does is it shifts the incentives in favour of playing by the rules and having access to a job year after year.”

East Timor wants guest workers scheme

Meanwhile a Timorese government official says Australia should allow East Timorese guest workers into the country.

East Timorese government official Kevin Austin has been lobbying Australia to set up a similar scheme with East Timor.

He said the workers could be employed in industries such as tourism and forestry, in north West Australia, which are suffering labour shortages.

“There are several industries we have looked at … that are having labour shortage crisis issues, and these are all industries that Timor can gain skills from,” Mr Austin told ABC radio.

“What we have proposed is 300 employees and trainees in the first pilot year and we are also requesting 100 occupational trainees.”

As one the world's poorest nations, East Timor would benefit significantly from a guest worker scheme, Mr Austin said.

“Timor would certainly benefit from the fact that we have such a large youth unemployed and unskilled so-called bubble.”

Mr Austin is hopeful Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will accept the proposal when he meets his East Timor counterpart, Xanana Gusmao, for talks in Canberra next week.

Meares thought green and gold days over

Silver medallist Anna Meares didn\’t think she would ever don the green and gold again after a near fatal cycling accident seven months ago.

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On Tuesday night the brave cyclist finished second in the women\’s sprint at the Olympics, claiming Australia\’s only cycling medal in Beijing with just the BMX riders to come.

Meares beat Chinese rider Guo Shuang in a sensational semi-final, but was no match for Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain in the gold medal ride-off.

On Wednesday she recalled the nightmare of not knowing if she would ever use her legs again.

“It was really difficult lying in that hospital bed wide awake at three o\’clock in the morning and no one\’s really told you anything about how serious your accident is other than you\’ve got a fractured neck,” she told the Nine Network.

When no one was around, she pondered that her Olympic dream might be over.

“I really didn\’t think I was going to get to wear the beautiful green and gold colours that all the Australians try and achieve to wear at the Olympic Games,” she said.

“Last night I was just really proud to get there.”

Meares\’ husband Mark Chadwick said he just kept the house clean while she recovered.

“It\’s been pretty hectic, I\’ve done a lot of house cleaning and things I don\’t like doing,” he told the Seven Network.

“I had it pretty easy really compared to like the coach.

“I just had to sit at home and see her after training but he was the mastermind behind it all.

“He had to do it all.”

It was a tough night, Meares coming back from a first heat loss in the best-of-three semi-final against Guo to send the race into a decider.

Guo fell onto the track, ripping a hole in her skinsuit in a dramatic final heat.

In the re-start the pair jostled as they were coming into the last lap, with Meares almost coming off her bike when the riders clashed near the inside of the track.

Guo got there by a couple of centimetres, but Meares was later awarded the race on protest, the judges ruling that Guo had crossed into the sprinter\’s lane.

“The one word I think of when I come to that race is just a brawl, a fight,” said Meares.

“I had to really dig deep and give everything I had to get through just to the gold medal round.

“I literally had nothing left in the legs by the time I got to the final against Victoria Pendleton because I spent it all on Guo Shuang.”

Meares medal cannot cover up track woes

As Anna Meares won her miracle silver medal on Wednesday night, the Australian Olympic track cycling team had no starters in the madison or the men\’s sprint semi-finals.

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Meares, the unofficial captain of the national sprint program, saved the track team from their worst Olympic result in 28 years.

Before her outstanding performance, the best they had managed at the Laoshan Velodrome was four fourth placings – only four years after five gold, two silver and two bronze in Athens.

Australia won the previous two madison gold medals at the Olympics, but failed to qualify a start in Beijing.

Defending Olympic champion Ryan Bayley and compatriot Mark French did not make it past the second round of the sprint.

The night before New Zealand beat Australia in the bronze medal ride for the 4000m teams pursuit – the ultimate humiliation. New Zealand had never beaten Australia in a major teams pursuit ride.

In Athens, the all-powerful Australian teams pursuiters broke the world record on the way to the gold medal.

There are many reasons for the calamitous decline since the last Olympics, although no one can quite explain Katie Mactier\’s dramatic 3000m individual pursuit implosion.

But three factors have affected Australia\’s track performance above all else.

First, Great Britain have looked at the Australian track system, adapted and refined the key points, showered their program with national lottery money and created a monster.

For the foreseeable future, every other country is racing for second in seven of the 10 Olympic events.

Second, Australia have become a victim of their own success in European professional road racing.

In the lead-up to Athens, the program successfully brought across top riders from road racing into the men\’s track endurance events.

But gaining access has become much harder as the Australians have become increasingly important to their European road teams.

That goes a long way to explaining the non-qualification in the madison – too often they were sending kids to World Cups as they frantically tried to accrue qualification points.

Finally, Australia lacks depth in the track sprint events.

After Meares, there is daylight to the next Australian women\’s sprinter.

In the same way that the British dominated the senior world track titles and then the Olympics this year, Australia won seven gold medals at the junior worlds.

So the young talent is there. Now they have four years to come through.

Fast.

Bolt wins 100-200m double gold

Move over Michael Phelps, the Beijing Olympics has another superstar.

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Showing what he can do when he runs at full speed all the way through the finish – something he hadn’t done in the 100m – Bolt finished in 19.30 seconds, eclipsing the old 200m record of 19.32 set by Michael Johnson at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

His win ensured that when highlight films of the Beijing Games are rolled in years to come, Bolt and Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals in the pool, will share the top billing.

The Jamaican speedster bettered his own world record in the 100m last Saturday, winning in 9.69 – despite slowing down over the final 20m to showboat.

Also at the Bird’s Nest, Melaine Walker of Jamaica won the gold medal in the women’s 400m hurdles in an Olympic record. Walker won in 52.64, with Sheena Tosta of the United States taking silver in 53.70 and Tasha Danvers of Britain third in 53.84.

Aksana Miankova of Belarus won gold in the women’s hammer throw, also in an Olympic record. Mainkova, who entered the games with the third-best throw of all time after two Russians who are either banned or under investigation for anti-doping violations, set the record with her next-to-last mark of 76.34m.

Earlier, Larisa Ilchenko took advantage of a British duo’s hard work by swimming closely in their wake. She then sprinted to a gold medal in the final stages of the first women’s 10km marathon swim.

At the Olympic rowing basin, the Russian finished four gruelling laps in 1 hour 59 minutes 27.7 seconds. She let leaders Keri-Anne Payne and Cassandra Patten do the hard work in front, then made her big move for the historic gold medal, reaching up to slam the yellow touchpad first.

Ilchenko’s strategy has helped her dominate open water swimming since 2004, winning five consecutive 5km world championships and three consecutive 10km races.

Natalie du Toit of South Africa, an amputee who removed her carbon-fibre prosthetic left leg before diving in, finished 16th – 1:22.2 behind Ilchenko’s winning time.

Synchronised swimmers Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova won duet gold medals in two straight Olympics. Performing a perfect free routine to the classic Peer Gynt Suite before a near capacity crowd at the Water Cube, the Russians won with a combined 99.251 points.

The pair received all perfect 10s for technical merit.

“Competition makes you achieve things you never thought possible,” Ermakova said though a translator. “We waited four years for this gold and a whole row of 10s was our crowning achievement.”

In golds also achieved on the water – at the sailing venue in Qingdao – Yin Jian won China’s first-ever sailing gold medal in women’s RS:X, a windsurfing class. Tom Ashely of New Zealand won men’s gold in the same class.

World champion Ramazan Sahin of Turkey won the 66kg freestyle wrestling gold medal. Buvaysa Saytiev of Russia matched his golds of 1996 and 2004 by defeating Soslan Tigiev of Uzbekistan 0-1, 1-0, 3-1 in the 74kg class.

Chinese world champion Wu Jingyu won the women’s under 49kg class on the first day of the taekwondo competition, and Afghanistan got its first Olympic medal, winning a bronze in men’s under 58kg.

Guillermo Perez of Mexico won the men’s under 58kg gold in a decision over Dominica’s Yulis Gabriel Mercedes. Rohullah Nikpai of Afghanistan won one of the two bronzes for men – and his country’s first Olympic medal ever.

Crystl Bustos hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning as the US Olympic softball team, forced into extra innings, beat Japan 4-1 and will play for their fourth straight gold medal. The Americans will play Japan, which beat Australia 4-3 in 12 innings, leaving Australia with the bronze.

Fiji faces expulsion from Pacific forum

Dignitaries from 15 nations have been meeting this week in Niue for the annual Pacific Islands Forum leaders' meeting.

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BLOG: Finding Niue

After meeting on Thursday the leaders said a ministerial group would continue monitoring the situation in Fiji, and a new report on election preparations would be submitted before the end of the year.

Once the second report has been received all leaders of Pacific Islands Forum countries may hold another meeting this year in Papua New Guinea.

“Measures to be considered include the suspension of particular governments from the forum,” a statement from the leaders said.

Fiji has been ruled by self-appointed prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama since he staged a bloodless coup in December 2006.

Human rights abuses

The military-controlled regime running Fiji has been accused of a host of human rights abuses and a crackdown on media freedom.

If Fiji were to be suspended from the forum this would be the first time the organisation has taken such action against a member country.

The forum's statement also expressed “serious concern” at Fiji's boycott of this year's meeting and said such non-attendance was unacceptable.

Leaders at the meeting also condemned recent statements by Fiji's interim government, which they said were inconsistent with promises made last year.

At last year's meeting in Tonga, Commodore Bainimarama promised to hold elections by the end of March 2009 in accordance with the rules of Fiji's constitution.

He has since changed his position, saying elections would not go ahead until a People's Charter he has championed was accepted.

Elections delayed

The charter would require big constitutional and political changes and delay elections by at least 12-15 months.

Fiji has been a key member of the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum, and the organisation is based in Fiji's capital Suva.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said the leaders were offended by Fiji's boycott of this year's forum and wanted to hold the nation to its promise to hold elections early next year.

“They have also signalled that they will not let the issue drop,” Ms Clark said.

“They did accept undertakings in good faith that there is no technical administrative or managerial reason why elections can't be held by the end of March next year. Only political will is lacking.”

She said after the new ministerial contact report was handed down, those at the meeting were prepared to consider suspending Fiji's interim government from the counsels of the forum.

'Strong message'

“It is a very strong message and the ball now is really in his (Bainimarama's) court as to how he reacts. This is very much about the Pacific Islands Forum leaders assuming leadership of this issue. The United Nations looks to us to lead. The commonwealth works closely with us,” she said.

Fiji relies on aid from wealthy countries and Ms Clark said walking away from the forum would harm its relationship with important donors.

“In practical terms I don't think there is any prospect of Fiji restoring its relations with its very important donors if it goes down a road of refusing to engage with the forum around the proper timetable. Fiji has already greatly undermined its economy, the living standards of its people,” she said.

“Not to engage with the forum now, not to engage properly with the commonwealth through dialogue process is simply to postpone, by who knows how long Fiji trying to rebuild its economy and living standards.”

It is believed the communique on Fiji endorsed by the forum was written by Mr Rudd, who is expected to address media on the issue later on Thursday afternoon.

Since the forum started operating in 1971 no country has ever been suspended from the organisation.

Whale euthanase operation begins

The injured baby humpback whale affectionately called “Colin” was found motherless and starving in a northern Sydney waterway earlier this week.

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John Dengate from the National Parks and Wildlife Service NSW (NPWS) said the decision had been “harrowing”.

“It's a tragic end to a program that dozens of people have put their hearts and souls into,” he told ABC Radio.

Mr Dengate said that from the beginning experts had advised that saving Colin was going to be “very, very difficult”, but nevertheless every possible avenue had been exhausted.

A meeting of NPWS workers, scientists and representatives of other agencies last night decided to put down the calf to end his suffering after his condition took a drastic turn for the worse.

“There's been some really interesting ideas that have come out of the community,” Mr Dengate said.

“We had a meeting last night to plan what the next steps would be … but nature intervened. The vet said he's going really fast, you've got to take action now.

“I guess it's a little bit like if you take your dog or cat to the vet and the vet says there's no more hope now, he's suffering.

“The decision we've taken is that we need to bear in mind that the animal shouldn't suffer, so we're trying to have that happen as soon as possible.”

Mr Dengate said the operation began shortly before 9am (AEST).

The whale unexpectedly appeared in The Basin, inside Sydney's Pittwater, on Sunday. It returned on Tuesday after being lured out to sea.

Rescuers opted not to make another attempt to shepherd the starving 4.5 metre calf into open water.

The head of the NPWS, Sally Barnes, said it was a very hard decision.

“We had expert advice that the animal probably would not make it through the night,” Ms Barnes said last night.

“It was suffering extremely so we've had to make the very difficult decision.”

Olympic team arrives home

Australia's Olympic athletes have arrived home to a rousing welcome at Sydney airport, with a formal welcome from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Triple gold-medallist Stephanie Rice led the contingent of athletes from the plane.

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“Every man, woman and child in this nation Australia is proud of every one of you, well done,” Mr Rudd said.

The prime minister said watching the opening ceremony in Beijing, the proudest moment for him was seeing the Australian athletes march into the stadium.

“To hear the roar of the crowd in China welcoming this great team for Australia says for me one thing – you are great ambassadors for Australia and the nation thanks you.”

The Airbus A330 carrying the majority of the athletes taxied towards Hangar 96 where hundreds of relatives and friends were waiting.

The athletes are returning with 46 Olympic medals, including 14 golds.

Rock-star welcome

Gold medal-winning swimmer Liesel Jones said she wasn't expecting a rock star welcome in Sydney but was extremely tired but thrilled to be back in Australia.

She's told the Nine Network she's not planning on getting back in the pool any time soon .. and will instead put her feet up and have a break from early morning training.

“Swimmers get up really early every day so it'll be really nice to stay in bed as long as I want,” she told reporters.

Nathan Willmot said he had flown first class with his fellow gold medallists for the first time in his life.

“Everyone was taking photos of each other on the flight and it was really good fun,” he said.

But in his summer Olympic tracksuit he was not prepared for the chilly Sydney temperatures.

Family and friends

More than 20 friends and family of 470 sailing gold medallist Nathan Willmott ere holding green and gold streamers and dressed in Olympic colours to welcome the gold medallist.

Some of the loudest cheers were reserved for pole vaulter Steve Hooker as the gold medallists made their way down the stairs to the stage, dressed in their Olympic uniforms and wearing their medals.

They were swamped by family and friends, as Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee's song We're all in this Together played loudly.

Equestrian silver medallist Megan Jones' sister, Emma Spencer-Gardener, said she was extremely proud of her older sister.

“It's a very exciting time and it's her first Olympics, she's been so inspirational.”

Asked how she felt to be back on her home soil, Jones told AAP, “It's pretty cool.”

Australian adoptions linked to child trafficking

The magazine interviewed an Indian mother who says her two-year-old daughter was kidnapped seven years ago and police in India now say she was adopted by a family in Queensland.

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Queensland Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech says Adoption Services Queensland will offer any assistance it can to investigating authorities.

And Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland says the federal government is treating the allegations seriously.

He says he's told his department to make direct contact with the Indian authorities and provide him with a brief on any potential legal issues arising in India and Australia.

Return to ‘rightful families’

The federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson has warned against a knee-jerk response to the allegations.

But he says if any of the children are found to have been kidnapped they will most likely have to be returned to their parents.

“Let us hope that the inquiry, in fact, does not find that children have been effectively kidnapped,” Dr Nelson told reporters in Adelaide today.

“But if they have, then we will have a moral responsibility to do the right thing.

“And the right thing, we would expect in most cases, will be to look at returning them to their rightful families.”

Dr Nelson rejected suggestions Canberra should wrest control of adoption legislation from the states.

“I don't think that we should have knee-jerk responses that suggest that the commonwealth should automatically take it over.

“So let's just wait until we get the outcome of the inquiry before people start to say: `Well, if the commonwealth takes it over that will solve all the problems'.

“Generally speaking, government is the problem, not the solution.”