Last night the House of Representatives debated a motion to make a posthumous apology to arguably our greatest ever male sprinter Peter Norman, whose legacy is so much greater than just his feats on the track. This is an edited version of a speech to the parliament by the Member for Bennelong John Alexander.

I rise to recognise the unique contribution made by Australian athlete Peter Norman to the worlds of both sport and politics. In sport Norman’s feet did the talking, becoming the highest achieving Australian male sprinter in our nation’s history. In politics, Norman’s statement was not through the delivery of a speech but simply through the wearing of a badge.

Don't underestimate the impact of this moment in 1968. Picture: AP

The badge said: ‘Olympic Project for Human Rights’. The venue was the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. The year 1968 is often referred to as the year the world changed - the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy; the raging of the Vietnam War; riots in Paris; industrial strikes across Europe; and uprisings in Czechoslovakia and Pakistan.

In the United States, violence engulfed civil rights protests across the nation. In response, Harry Edwards, famous for his revolutionary musings as Professor in Black Leadership at San Jose State College, formed the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

Blurring the fine line between sport and politics, the OPHR called for the instant dismissal of Avery Brundage as the president of the International Olympic Committee, the banning of competitors from South Africa and Rhodesia, and the reinstatement of Muhammad Ali’s title as world boxing champion.

Talk of protests by athletes at the games was met by threats from Brundage, who claimed that the Olympic Games was not the place for political statement and any action would be met with official sanction.

Two of Harry’s most famous students were outspoken athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were favourites to win gold and silver in the 200 metres final.

What no-one expected was Australian Peter Norman, who split the two Americans to take out the silver medal. Norman’s time of 20.06 seconds would have won gold at the Sydney Olympics and still stands as the Australian record 44 years later.

No Australian male sprinter has since won an Olympic medal of any description and yet it is a stain on our nation that Peter Norman was immediately ostracised by the Australian media and by athletics officials. Despite running five Olympic qualifying times for the 100 metres and 13 for the 200 metres, the Australian Olympic Committee preferred to send no male sprinters to the 1972 Munich games.

Norman’s crime was to give a silent expression of solidarity to Smith and Carlos. Walking into the Olympic stadium in their black socks with one hand clad in a black glove and the other carrying their running shoes, Smith and Carlos proudly wore OPHR badges as a statement against racism and segregation in the United States.

On the way out to the medal ceremony, Norman spotted another US athlete wearing an OPHR badge and asked if he could borrow it. The simple gesture to wear this badge on the dais as Smith and Carlos raised their fists in protest condemned Norman to never represent Australia again.

(Ed’s note: Since delivering this speech last night Mr Alexander has noted Peter Norman did represent Australia at the 1970 Commonwealth Games and another regional competition, but never at the Olympics.)

The shame for Australia is not limited to the immediate reaction from the media and Australian officials banning Norman from the 1972 games. The further embarrassment is that 32 years after Mexico, as we celebrated with such national pride at the Sydney Olympic Games, Peter Norman received no formal recognition.

Just as Atlanta had done with Muhammad Ali four years earlier, the opening ceremony for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games offered a unique opportunity for national healing, to give our nation a chance to make peace with Peter Norman.

Yet recognition instead came from the US track team with Edward Moses inviting him to join them and Michael Johnson reportedly calling Peter Norman, ‘My hero.’ It is the greatest irony that the most celebrated moment of the Sydney 2000 games was the victory by Cathy Freeman in the 400-metre final.

In 2006, Norman passed away. His impact was so great that the US track and field federation declared the day of his funeral, 9 October 2006, Peter Norman Day. In the most fitting tribute, Tommie Smith and John Carlos travelled to Australia to deliver eulogies and to serve as pallbearers.

I thank the member for Fraser for raising this motion. To Peter Norman’s family, some of whom are present here today, I hope that you can accept our regret at the way Peter was treated and that his recognition did not come during his lifetime. Peter George Norman is truly an Australian legend and deserves to be celebrated by athletes, schoolchildren, historians and politicians across the nation.

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    • Dolly says:

      11:10am | 21/08/12

      What more can be said. A legendary sprinter who still holds the Australian 200 metre record. But an even better man.
      The story goes that Carlos and Smith were going to wear black gloves at the medal ceremony. Carlos however, left his gloves back in his room. It was Norman who suggested they wear a glove each, hence in the picture Smith wearing a right glove and Carlos a left. And there in front is Peter Norman, silently but symbolically supporting them both, wearing his badge. What a hero. What a human being

    • Rob says:

      01:49pm | 21/08/12

      I wonder where these people were when the doco came out on him, a few years back? Seems he’s getting more press now, than before. Why? The story hasn’t changed.

    • St. Michael says:

      02:26pm | 21/08/12

      Mostly because people have finally started to forget the other thing that a black man with a black glove with a raised fist represented around that time in history: the Black Panther Party.

      Let me be clear, Peter Norman was there in support of civil rights, as were Carlos and Smith, but it’s been horribly misinterpreted over the years thanks to the mentioned group of militant psychos.

      What’s also interesting as a byline is that the IOC had no problem with the Nazi salute being given by German medal winners at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

    • Austin 3:16 says:

      02:29pm | 21/08/12

      Hey Rob, the story hasn’t changed but maybe the world has changed. And changed a little bit for the better too.

    • Carol says:

      02:59pm | 21/08/12

      One would have to ask why the people excited by the media and politicians belittled this man in the first place?
      Any thinking person knew back then that what was still taking place in the good old US of A was wrong. But we all know politicians suck and the media loves a “good stood” story.
      Look in the mirror people, ask yourselves what were your views back then?

    • Bazza says:

      11:11am | 21/08/12

      GET OF HIS BANDWAGON. There is not a politician in the current houses worthy to talk about this man.

    • mikespol says:

      01:10pm | 21/08/12

      At least someone is saying it. And given JA’s background, can’t think of anyone in the Parliament better qualified.

    • AFR says:

      01:53pm | 21/08/12

      Notwithstanding his appearance as the first referee on Gladiators in 1995, I’d say JA is pretty well qualified.

    • Mahhrat says:

      11:16am | 21/08/12

      Did the motion succeed?  I don’t understand.  It damn well should have.

    • SJ says:

      12:02pm | 21/08/12

      Motion hasn’t been voted on yet. The Government usually suspends business on sitting Thursdays to allow private members’ motions like this one to be voted on in the House of Representatives. Not all motions get called on for a vote though.

    • Mahhrat says:

      02:01pm | 21/08/12

      If we don’t apologise to this guy we should be ashamed of ourselves.  Seriously.

    • Reader says:

      11:35am | 21/08/12

      Not that much of a leap from 1968 to being sentenced to ” 7years transportation” for stealing a handful of grain then!? Very underwhelming at times, this country and humans in general!

    • fairsfair says:

      11:49am | 21/08/12

      Would have been nice for oh lets say maybe CH9 to focus on this type of person (the spirit of the Olympics and really just a good Australian) while the Olympics were on. Maybe some stories to interject the repeated coverage… such a shame… All I remember about the olympics is that we lost the relay on the second day and that Steph Rice and Kobe Bryant are “friends”.

      What a fantastic human being. What a shame we don’t live in a country where Peter Norman is a bigger household name then media tarts of today and recent decades.

    • Alfie says:

      11:56am | 21/08/12

      Ryan Kohls 26/3/12 : “The other person on the stand was Australian runner, Peter Norman. He took a lot of heat for his participation in that moment. How much did his support mean to you and Tommie?”

      John Carlos: “Peter Norman was a godsend. We could have went through 10 million white individuals, and 9,999,999 would never have attempted that, let alone do it. Peter was like a piece of clairvoyant paper. There was no color with Peter. It was about his spirit, his heart, and his vision of what could happen in society when people come together to do something creative. I’ll always have respect for Peter, more than Tommie, because Peter was genuine from the day we met to the day he died. When you sit back and think about what happened when we left the victory stand and returned to our home countries, there was two individuals in America and one in Australia. If they decided to whip up on John Carlos they would do it until I was tired, then move to Tommie Smith. In Australia – and remember in the late 60s it was parallel to South Africa in terms of its abuse to people of color – Peter Norman stood up and said he believed in justice and equality for all people. When he went back, just because he put a button on his shirt, they beat Peter 24/7. There was no spin-off on Peter. At the same time, the more they beat him the stronger he got to his committment. He never said one negative thing about us, and stayed strong to his death. He had nervous breakdowns, got into alcohol, his marriage broke down, and they didn’t even acknowledge him at the 2000 Olympic games in Australia. All of these things were taking place, but Peter never changed his views and values, and I’ll always have respect for that long after I leave this world.”

    • Sir Peter says:

      11:59am | 21/08/12

      The sad reality is Peter was an Australian proudly standing in solidarity with black people at a time when his own country had a law in place that prevented black people moving to Australia.

      The disgraceful Australian establishment treated Peter with contempt because he was a living breathing testimony to Australia’s shame.

      It’s proof of Australia’s international irrelevance and isolation that it missed international condemnation for running two parallel systems of apartheid. One for it’s own black people and one for the world’s black people.

      Peter is a hero to me and always will be.

    • Lukew says:

      02:49pm | 21/08/12

      We are experts at treating people this way, no matter the endeavour and there is nothing to suggest that it won’t happen again.  In fact we are possibly getting worse.

    • Anjuli says:

      12:20pm | 21/08/12

      When all races think as one we are all human and all religion stop thinking one is better than the other, we will then have a peaceful world or be blown to smithereens .I hate it when some one who ever they are think they are more superior than the next person.

    • AJ of Here says:

      01:32pm | 21/08/12

      I think you will find, Anjuli, that we will achieve world peace when people stop minding other people’s business. Unfortunately, it is constitutionally impossible for some people to do so, and therefore, the wars, strife and bloodshed will never end.

    • M says:

      12:35pm | 21/08/12

      And yet, a young aboriginal boxer wears his flag to be proud of where he has come from and we condemn him.

      Seems like there is still such a thing as white male priviledge.

    • Morgan says:

      01:12pm | 21/08/12

      I’m not sure I agree. Speaking with a full understanding of the atrocities that have taken place in the past, the knowledge of the disgusting difference in life expectancy, economic or social status, prison sentencing etc for aboriginal australians and my wholehearted support to finding and implementing policy to equalise indigenous circumstances with everybody else I’m still against it. Just because they’re a minority struggling to close the gap does not mean, in my mind at least, that they should be wearing a different flag while representing Australia at an international competition. It’s disrespectful. Our flag is an important national symbol, my personal belief is that the “aboriginal flag” does nothing to help promote national unity or advance indigenous affairs in Australia.

      If you are going to compete on Australia’s behalf you should not wear a flag that symbolises a difference between your ethnic group and the rest of Australia. He’s effectively said he is only there to represent indigenous australians.

    • Sir Peter says:

      02:31pm | 21/08/12

      @Morgan “He’s effectively said he is only there to represent indigenous australians.”

      ...er no. By that logic the Haka “only represents Maoris.”

      Maybe if white Australia wasn’t so deeply ashamed of this countries aboriginal heritage it wouldn’t be this enormous problem.

      Why on earth would a man of Aboriginal heritage want to wave the ‘Union Flag: the night version?’

      There are days when I look at NZ’s pride in their national heritage and have to concede they are just better, cleverer and more moral people than Australians.

    • M says:

      03:33pm | 21/08/12

      At sir peter, difference is that the Australian colonials didn’t have to sign a peace treaty with their natives like those in un zud had to.

    • HappyCynic says:

      04:10pm | 21/08/12

      @Morgan

      “If you are going to compete on Australia’s behalf you should not wear a flag that symbolises a difference between your ethnic group and the rest of Australia.”

      About that point… the aboriginal flag is actually legally recognised as a flag of Australia according to the Flags Act of 1953, so technically and legally it is a flag that represents Australia as a whole even though our most commonly used flag is the one with the Union Jack in the corner.

      You know if we ever became a republic I can’t think of an easier or more cost-effective transition to a new flag than that one.

    • maus says:

      12:37pm | 21/08/12

      I’m so glad this fine man is finally being recognised. And while we are talking about Peter Norman, can someone please explain to me the intent of the mural in Burnett Lane, Brisbane? It depicts this exact moment and seems to suggest that Norman was a racist, as it’s surrounded by other pictures and murals relating to indigneous Australians and past atrocities. Walking past it does me sad for Norman and his family, regardless of it’s intent. Has anyone else noticed this and can anyone clarify?

    • Shane* says:

      12:47pm | 21/08/12

      I don’t want to trivialise Peter Norman’s legacy by quoting Professor Dumbledore, but for whatever reason this was the quote that popped into my head: “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

      And it’s true.

    • Wayne Perry says:

      12:50pm | 21/08/12

      It was an absolute disgrace by the Australian government and athletics/sporting bodies that he never again represented his country for standing alongside those who made a statement against racism and prejudice. The apology is long overdue and it is a terrible shame that he didn’t live to see it made.

    • mikespol says:

      01:08pm | 21/08/12

      The only shame in this whole story, is that it has to be a posthumous recognition.

      Peter Norman. Great Aussie. Great sportsman. Great human being.

    • Luke says:

      01:13pm | 21/08/12

      Peter Norman = legend

    • John T says:

      02:12pm | 21/08/12

      And the AOC make a mealy mouthed comment that he wasnt blacklisted but “injured”.  Given that he repeatedly qualified and was left out, well sorry AOC, ICB -and given the utter hypocrisy re D’Arcy by the AOC I would suggest that the attitude is deeply ingrained.  This man was and is an absolute Olympic hero and such a contrast to the cossetted and spoilt drama queens and princes that we currently have allegedly representing this country.  I am not generally in favour of the collective wisdom that sporting persons are role models- but this bloke is someone that the family will be discussing at the dinner table tonight.

    • Arnold Layne says:

      02:19pm | 21/08/12

      Normally my view is that there are appropriate forums for these kind of statements and that when you are at an even representing your country you should honour that.  In this case however, Peter Norman did nothing wrong.  He represented his nation proudly, he simply wore a badge demonstrating solidarity with and for a noble cause.  The cause in this case was pointing out the hypocrisy that it was ok for non-white to represent their country and win medals, just not to have much equality anywhere else.

      All that aside, he’s one of our greatest Olympic track sprinters, particularly so in terms of male sprinters.  Recognition, even posthumously, is long overdue.

    • Swamp Thing says:

      02:42pm | 21/08/12

      Yeah - apologise, that will really help - who gets to bring the ouija board?

    • bael says:

      03:13pm | 21/08/12

      Peter Norman. Thankyou

    • Gordon says:

      03:40pm | 21/08/12

      Seems he was treated dreadfully by two generations of sports offialdom. But it also seems we are only happy to have politics dragged into our sport once it’s safely too late to do anything about the issue. Let us imagine what would befall some athlete who used the 2012 olympic podium to wave a flag for gay marriage or Julian Assange. I hope the people who are queueing up (now) to disown Peter Norman’s shabby treatment have a strategy in mind when some cause they dissaprove of (now) gets trotted out. Otherwise admit that keeping politics out of sport has a moral price tag

    • Flora says:

      03:58pm | 21/08/12

      It is wonderful that this truly wonderful Australian Olympian has been recognised at last.  His mum Thelma Norman will have much joy in her life now.  Sadly it is too late for Peter but his memory will live on.

      I wish John Alexander and this Editor of Punch, had the grace to mention that this all started with M.P.Andrew Leigh’s motion, Labor member for Fraser in the A.C.T. who spent many hours getting this together.  Thank you Andrew.  I do believe John Alexander did write,  an excellent contribution though.

    • Lauren says:

      05:22pm | 21/08/12

      He was a truly amazing man not only because of what he believed in, but because he competed in the true Olympic spirit. Thank you to Andrew Leigh for his beautiful tribute and apology. I wish Peter had lived to see it.

 

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