Peter Norman should be regarded as a sporting legend in this country. He should be up with the likes of Donald Bradman, Kieran Perkins and Cathy Freeman. He should be on coins, in school textbooks and spoken about on Australia Day.
But he’s not.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has removed Peter Norman from Australian history books and will continue to do so with its refusal to support the Parliamentary apology moved by Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh earlier last week.
Why? Well that’s something members of the Norman family and indeed a great many others are still wondering.
At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Peter Norman came second in the 200m final, running a time that still stands as the Australian record. He stood on the podium, wearing a badge supporting equal civil rights, beside African American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith as they gave the Black Power salute.
To us university students in the twenty-first century this may not seem like a big deal. But to some what Norman did was not in support of equal civil rights, but in support of a violent and possibly unjustified movement. For them, no Australian should be seen to support such people.
In the AOC’s view, Norman had clearly breached the Olympic Charter which bans demonstrations of racial propaganda from Olympic venues. He had been warned by the Chef de Mission Julius Patching to be careful with his public statements yet had persisted with wearing the badge.
Although he was allowed to run at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, Norman was overlooked by the AOC for the 1972 Munich Olympics despite running the qualifying times for the 200m and 100m a total of 13 times. He quit athletics shortly after.
However, the biggest injustice by the AOC came in 2000. It refused to allow Norman to walk in the parade of former Olympians at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. The group of athletes was cheered on by thousands as they took their lap of honour around the stadium. But not Peter Norman. In the end, Norman was actually invited to the event by the American team, who saw him as a hero.
While the motion to give a formal apology to the family of Peter Norman last week is a big step forward in rewriting the history of Australian sport, the organisation that caused him the most pain is still yet to right its wrong. The AOC needs to admit that while they may have viewed Norman’s act as a breach of Olympic code at the time, it was indeed a morally right act for which he deserves recognition. In its staunch denial of shunning Peter Norman, the AOC continues to deny him the status he deserves: legend of the athletics track who bravely stood up for what he believed in – equal rights for every human being.
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