Australian anti-racist athlete Peter Norman, who was born in Coburg and later became a trainer and player for West Brunswick Football Club, is to be recognised by the Moreland Council.
Norman remains Australia’s fastest sprinter — his Australian 200-metre record from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics still stands.
However, Norman was not just an extraordinary athlete. He also took a stand against racism and for human rights. He was the third man in the iconic photo of the medal ceremony for the 200-metre race.
During the ceremony, African-American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists on the podium taking a brave stand for Black rights. Norman showed his solidarity by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge.
When asked by the media why he wore the badge, Norman said he opposed Australia’s White Australia policy which placed restrictions on non-white immigration and Aboriginal children being removed from their families.
Carlos and Smith were immediately punished for taking a stand: they were expelled from the Olympic Village and ostracised on their return home.
While Norman was allowed to stay on for the rest of the Olympics, he was ostracised by the sporting establishment on his return.
Norman was not selected for the 1972 Olympics, despite running the qualifying time.
He was erased from commentary about the Olympics and from books about the 100 greatest Australian athletes or the 100 greatest moments in Australian sport. He was omitted from the list of former Olympians invited by the Australian Olympics Committee to do a lap of honour at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. However, the US athletics team invited Norman to stay with them during the games.
Norman’s achievements have been noted and celebrated internationally, but not in Australia. When he died in 2006, the US Track and Field Federation declared October 9 “Peter Norman Day”. World champion athletes such as Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson and Asafa Powell all regard Norman as their hero.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos flew to Australia for Peter Norman’s funeral and were his pall bearers. In his oration, John Carlos explained that, “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat and Peter said ‘I’ll stand with you’.”
Norman never regretted taking his stand in 1968, despite his exclusion by the AOC and Athletics Australia.
In the 2008 film Salute, made by his nephew Matt, Norman said: “I couldn’t see why a black man couldn’t drink the same water from a water fountain, take the same bus or go to the same school as a white man. There was a social injustice that I couldn’t do anything about from where I was, but I certainly hated it.
“It has been said that sharing my silver medal with that incident on the victory dais detracted from my performance. On the contrary, I have to confess, I was rather proud to be part of it.”
It wasn’t until October 2012 that federal parliament unanimously supported Labor MP Andrew Leigh’s motion to acknowledge Norman’s bravery and extraordinary athletic achievements. The motion also apologised for the treatment Norman received on his return to Australia.
I was honoured to move the motion for Moreland Council to finally recognise Peter Norman’s important moral stance.
[Sue Bolton is the Socialist Alliance councillor on the Moreland City Council.]
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