Peter Norman finally gets his due in Australia


I have written before about Australian sprinter Peter Norman who joined with Tommie Smith and John Carlos in their dramatic gesture against racism at the 1968 Olympics. All three were vilified for their actions, with Norman suffering at the hands of the Australian sports authorities long after he had been embraced by US athletes for his act of solidarity. Carlos and Smith considered him a close friend and flew to Australia to be pall bearers at his funeral. But finally, on the 50th anniversary of that event, Australia is honoring Norman.

Athletics Australia said Norman’s actions were now recognised as “one of Australian sports’ most iconic moments and a special moment in Olympic history”.

It said a bronze statue of Norman, jointly funded with the Victoria state government, would be erected outside the Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne.

“Initiatives to honour Peter Norman, such as this statue, are seriously overdue,” Athletics Australia president Mark Arbib said.

He said Australia would also recognise October 9, the date of Norman’s funeral in 2006, as Peter Norman Day.

USA Track & Field has marked the date since 2006 and Norman’s actions were appreciated in America far more swiftly than in his homeland.

Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral, with Carlos urging Australians to “go and tell your kids the story of Peter Norman”.

When the US Olympic Committee heard that the Australians had not invited Norman to Sydney 2000 celebrations, they invited him as part of their delegation.

Norman’s daughter Janita said the family had immense pride in his stance.

“That pride hasn’t diminished with the passage of time, so to accept this statue 50 years on has only added to that feeling,” she said.

The Australian Olympic Committee awarded Norman a posthumous Order of Merit in June this year

Tommie Smith gave an interview recently where he said that athletes today seem to be more afraid to take on the system because they might lose money. Only a few like Colin Kaepernick are willing to take risks.

Comments

  1. Roj Blake says

    No surprise it took us too long to recognise Norman’s act for what it was – this was an act of bravery, particularly since Australia had only just seen the end of its discriminatory immigration policy that would have denied entry to Smith and Carlos.

    The Australian Olympic Committee was made up, mostly, older, conservative, white men. They brooked no dissent. Look at the way one of the world’s best swimmers was treated for her individuality.

    During the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Fraser angered swimming team sponsors and the Australian Swimming Union (ASU) by marching in the opening ceremony against their wishes, and wearing an older swimming costume in competition because it was more comfortable than the one supplied by the sponsors. She was accused of stealing an Olympic flag from a flagpole outside Emperor Hirohito’s palace, the Kōkyo. She was arrested but released without charge. In the end she was given the flag as a souvenir.[6] However, the Australian Swimming Union suspended her for 10 years. They relented a few months before the 1968 Games but by then it was too late for Fraser, at 31, to prepare.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_Fraser

    We as a nation have grown much since then, but there is a reluctance to look at the past and celebrate our heroes, unless they died in some foreign land, fighting a war on behalf of others.

    It is a shame that Peter Norman did not get the recognition he was due whilst alive, and that his stand did not inspire a greater push for racial equality in his home land.

  2. polishsalami says

    Dawn Fraser’s case is more complicated than Norman’s. She killed her own mother just before the Olympics, under circumstances which would have seen her jailed today.

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